June 17, 2011

Beyond Yoga Self-Indulgence: Off the Mat and Into the World

I’ll admit it. In my less-than-stellar hours, I am under the sorry illusion that life is all about me. I tiptoe into my personal yoga space with my head crammed full of worries about how crowded the class is likely to be, and how sorry I am that there is a substitute teacher instead of the one I wanted. I freeze with awkward self consciousness when someone suggests that infuse my carefully aligned yoga poses with free form elements of dance, and cringe when I hear instructions to ‘find a partner.’ As lonely as it often is, I take refuge in the safety of me, myself and I. In these moments, I am drawn to yoga in order to reconnect with myself – to calm the chatter, to open my heart and to remind myself to soften to the beauty of the world around me.

This morning at the Hanuman Festival in Boulder, I was part of a unique yoga experience that wasn’t at all about me. Suzanne Sterling and Kerri Kelly from Off the Mat and Into the World offered a practice of yoga to be used as a powerful tool – to inspire conscious, sustainable activism and ignite grassroots social change. This joyful and eclectic yoga class challenged everyone in the room to redefine the purpose of our yoga transformations from the feel good-self indulgence it can often be, to a tool for social change.  In a nutshell, it struck me as learning to get the hell out of your own way in order to be of service to others.

Pema Chodron teaches that

“In order to have compassion for others, we have to have compassion for ourselves. In particular, to care about other people who are fearful, angry, jealous, overpowered by addictions of all kinds, arrogant, proud, miserly, selfish, mean—you name it—to have compassion and to care for these people, means not to run from the pain of finding these things in ourselves. In fact, one’s whole attitude toward pain can change. Instead of fending it off and hiding from it, one could open one’s heart and allow oneself to feel that pain, feel it as something that will soften and purify us and make us far more loving and kind.”

The Off the Mat and Into the World practice starts with connection to and transformation of the self, but doesn’t get hung up there. Using breath, voice, song, dance, drumming,  Suzanne and Kerri transformed a roomful of individual yoga practitioners into a smiling, sweating, joyful mass of palpable energy – energy that is designed to inspire connection to oneself, the community, and service to others (Seva).

Partway through class, I opened one eye to peek outside myself far enough to notice the centered, earth-mama yogini nearby whose broad smile and energy radiating to everyone in the room. Her gift to me was the the kernel of awareness i need to know that my own goddess nature, closeted by self-consciousness and bad habits, has been sorely neglected. Getting in touch with this open-hearted, compassionate nature is about transforming doubt, fear, and judgment into strength, courage and acceptance, allowing me to finally, finally be of service in an authentic way.

Toward the end of class, Suzanne led us in a chant/song to remind and inspire. It worked for me.

Om Mani Padme Hum (God is the jewel in the center of the lotus/God is in everyone).

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Diana Mercer  |  Contribution: 3,740