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…

On the day when

the weight deadens
on your shoulders

and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eye
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets into you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.


May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.


- John O’Donohue

Ahimsa: Self-Aggression Masquerading as Yoga

As my career has evolved as a yoga teacher, I have become acutely aware of the underlying hipocrisy of how the body (and control of the body) is portrayed in mass-media and what is viewed as “beautiful” or “yogic" in our culture: everything from billboards to food trends to subtle dynamics inside of our studios.  In my days as a dancer, I faced many of my own battles with body image and disordered eating, a common story for many in the industry.  While yoga has been incredibly healing for me in a variety of ways, I would be lying if I told you that remnants of these issues don’t still haunt me and that this has been exacerbated at times by a need to emulate what is idealized or lauded in parts of pop yogic culture: body subjugation and strict dietary restrictions to mention a couple of hot buttons.  

You see it on the cover of mass publications, in advertising for anything from soymilk to booty shorts.  Yoga has been made into a free-for-all for anyone wanting to jump on the OM bandwagon: "Eat this and you’ll be blissful and skinny while you consume highly processed food"stuff”!“  "Wear this top and show off abs that you’ll have to starve yourself to get”.  Unfortunately you may also hear it from teachers or practitioners who may think they mean well but ultimately contribute to an environment of control and fixation.  I’m not here to shit on the media, the culture that consumes it or anyone trying to share and teach what they think is correct, but I’m asking all of us to pause a little more often and ask some hard questions. 

absolutely think it is vital to the health of each individual and to our society as a whole that we have good tools to eat well, move regularly, learn to work with our minds to shift suffering, and overall create strong and skillful relationships with others.  I’m here to say that a mindful movement and meditation practice can help you acheive those things in part, but yoga is not a panacea.  And using yoga as a way of viciously submitting the body or mind to “no pain no gain” training is an ultimate disregard of the first yama of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and one of the basic precepts of Buddhism.  

Ahimsa traditionally means non-harming and is often used to promote a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. It also should and must start with our own personal regard for ourselves.  How often do we make a choice that has a very subtle undertone of self-aggression?

The ways that we work with ahimsa on and off the mat can be multi-layered and very subtle.  Does buying highly processed vegetarian meat-substitute filled with synthesized ingredients shipped from halfway around the globe constitute a more ethical decision than locally raised meat?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Is buying incredibly expensive “natural” and “organic” food a more honorable choice if you can’t afford to make rent?  Probably not.  108 chaturangas and straining and forcing your body into postures that you are either not warm or prepared for does not a yoga practice make.  Running on empty or overworking yourself at the expense of nourishing self-care is a detriment to yourself and those around you.  

I am not here to espouse what makes a practice for any individual.  That is a journey we all must take on our own (hopefully with the guidance of a compassionate and knowledgable teacher).  The place where we inevitably run into trouble, however, is when we fixate or grasp at things (body type, lifestyle, products, postures) in the name of “bettering ourselves”.  The part that makes this so tricky is that all of this fixation and self-aggression is beautifully cloaked in the shroud of “self-improvement” or “yoga”.  

Enter humor, compassion and self-inquiry.

I am a firm believer that a practice must be both disciplined and lighthearted.  We can snicker at the aisle with 75 different kinds of soy milk and the idea of a “simpler life”.  We can giggle when we wobble or teeter in a posture as we strive to find the balance between alignment, effort, and surrender.  Every time we misstep a bit we are allowed to grin.  As Pema Chodron says, we can smile at our fear.  

In addition to humor, we must be curious and open-hearted in the quest to weed out those subtleties that point toward self-aggression and fixation.  This is a lifelong process, not an overnight cure as some might like you to think.  It is a wonderful task that we have been given to find the places where we hold on too tightly.   Not only are we learning how to be more skillful in our own self-care, but we are empowering ourselves to be the blueprint for every relationship we have or create, and ultimately our relationship with the planet.  We need this work more than ever now, and so it is great news that we have all the tools we need to start RIGHT NOW.  

So as I’ve said before, lighten up a bit…  be curious about your choices and more curious about what choices other people tell you to make.  Aspire to be more open in your heart.  And more kind.  And patient.   Smile when you misstep and start again.  It’s not a race, it’s a path.

 

I am working on a new project highlighting stories of people in yoga and wellness who have worked with self-aggression and subjugation (in the name of yoga or wellness) skillfully.  Got a story?  Please email me at ap [at] anyaporter.com

Big love, 

AP

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. 

LIGHTEN UP! 

-AP

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Questioning and Buddha Nature

From the Ocean of Dharma Blog:

Buddha nature is not regarded as a peaceful state of mind or, for that matter, as a disturbed one either. It is a state of intelligence that questions our life and the meaning of life. It is the foundation of a search. A lot of things haven’t been answered in our life—and we are still searching for the questions. The questioning is buddha nature. It is a state of potential. The more dissatisfaction, the more questions and more doubts there are, the healthier it is, for we are no longer sucked into ego-oriented situations, but we are constantly woken up.

-Chögyam Trungpa

“I’ve always been serious that way, trying to evolve to a more conscious state. Funny thing about that, though. You tweak yourself,looking for more love, less lust, more compassion, less jealousy. You keep tweaking, keep adjusting those knobs until you can no longer find the original settings. In some sense, the original settings are exactly what I’m looking for-a return to the easygoing guy i was before my world got complicated, the nice guy who took things as they came and laughed so hard the blues would blow away in the summer wind.” 

― Bill Withers

Dancing Open Your Heart

I recently completed my third weekend of buddhist studies immersion and meditation instructor training with the Interdpendence Project.  This weekend was comprised of roughly twelve hours of instructing, receiving instruction or discussion on compassion and loving-kindness meditation.  A lot can touch your heart when a group of people come together and focus two and a half days on these practices.  As the weekend slowly fades in the distance of my “busy” New York life, I am left with a sense that what transpired was a dance of the heart.  It was a dance to help us all remember that even in the darkness of our worst self-aggression, glimmers of true happiness arise.  And even in the shadows of ourselves where envy, ill-will and judgement dwell, the opportunity to see the light that casts the shadow is ever greater…. 

Compassion practices take us home to the tenderness of our hearts, which is both incredibly powerful and quite jarring at times.  Practices like metta (loving-kindness) ask us to work with not only those people who inspire and support us, but also those with whom we may have conflict or challenge us in some way.  Metta doesn’t stop there.  It further looks at the ways in which we move away from the open heart, ways that we cling to or create conditions for the love we give to ourselves and others.  

So nothing about Metta is fluffy.  It is not all love and light, and that is what makes it such profound work.  One of the things I appreciate about this work, is that it very much forces us to keep it real, to look at our shadows with great gentleness and work with the things that bar us from the vast capacity of our own heart.   

Dancing is also not just fluff.  It is gritty, sexy, light, fluid, graceful, sometimes awkward, still or frenetic, intensely sad or humorous.  While remaining a serious discipline it also evokes all of the hues and saturations that color a life.  

As we sit down to open our hearts, we might contemplate our work as a dance.  We can approach it with a real sense of discipline, but we will not be surprised when it evokes tears or tightness in our throats or deep longing.  We can work with these emotions just as we work with the heart: with gentleness, openness and hopefully an occasional giggle or fit of laughter.  

For more on compassion practices, check out Sharon Salzberg, or join a course at IDP. 

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