September 19, 2012

What Yoga Can Teach Us About 9/11. ~ Chaz Russ

photo: flickr/Debra Sweet

How do I even touch this subject?

I remember the day like it was yesterday.

I was in NJ, before heading to Rutgers to work at the genetics lab, I turned on the television and saw it: a plane. In a building so familiar, now on fire.

The awe of its tallness in my childhood NY adventures—a fixture in the famous skyline—smoke and confusion billowing.

How did this happen? What went wrong? How does a plane crash into a fricken building!?

I called my mom. We were both so perplexed. I continued to speak with her for about 20 minutes, while heading to the lab. As I was waiting at the campus bus stop, she started screaming, uncontrollably, into the phone, “Another plane just hit! Oh my God, honey, another plane just hit the other tower.”

Everything got very quiet.

Then, chaos.

Everyone was calling their families and friends at the lab; we all knew someone, that either worked by the towers or could have been in the city that morning.

The phones didn’t stop ringing.

People were listening to the news on radios. Many people that worked in my laboratory were from different countries; moms from Japan, fathers from Israel, sisters from India, all calling in. Then the busy signals came. Then the numbness.

Honestly, I have no recollection of what followed.

Eventually, I made my way to my family, through the horrendous traffic.

Eventually, people started to tear away from the shock and horror and watch the news.

We started joining hands. We hugged a lot. We looked into each other’s eyes. Everyone knew everyone. We were no longer strangers; there was no longer a boundary between us.

There was one heartbeat.

We were no longer Jerseyans and New Yorkers, black or white, straight or gay, Christian or Jew.

We became citizens of humanity. We all were impacted. Some of us knew someone that died.

Many, including my family, knew of people that somehow, were saved by the grace of God, that day.

My mom’s best friend’s son worked in the towers. For whatever reason, on that morning, he decided to stop for a Krispy Kreme before heading to work. Had it not been for his donut craving, Michael would no longer be with us.

About a week later, I remember getting onto another campus bus as I headed toward class. A female Muslim student got onto the bus after me. She was wearing a pretty blue hijab and had sewn an American flag patch onto the fabric of her backpack.

It was a moment I will never forget.

Asking her about it, she told me she felt the need to express her patriotism for America, or else someone may accuse her of being a terrorist.

She! A 20-something, kind-hearted, pre-med student with a sweet smile. How difficult it must have been for God-fearing, average Muslims in the anti-Arab hate bath aftermath of 9/11.

And here we find ourselves today, shocked and horrified, grieving for the embassy workers and ambassador attacked and murdered—all over a dumb video produced in hate-engendered ignorance and veiled in separateness.

I fear for my friends Georgina and Michael working at the embassy in Beirut.


The layers of this tragedy continue to overlap.

So, how do we make sense out of something so incomprehensible? So reprehensible?

I recently saw the movie Samsara.

(If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. It’s shot entirely on 70 mm film and captures the experiences of 25 countries over the course of 5 years. Through a feast of moving images, like flipping through the pages of a National Geographic magazine, the directors weave the most magnificent visual tale and tapestry of connectedness: the dunes of the Sahara, the garbage heaps of a major metropolis, the chicken farms of China, the vibrantly painted ceilings in Italy, etc.)

Samsara refers to the world—the mandala or wheel of everything that is, birthed and re-birthed, karma and healing—the cycle that connects us all.

Zooming into the eyes of a young boy in a tribe in Africa and then zooming into the eyes of a young girl in Utah, we are able to see how identical they hold this samsara. It is our ignorance or avidya, that prevents us from experiencing this universal connection and subsequently creates the illusion of separateness from all that is (maya).

This tragic illusion caused 9/11 and the heartbreak of the recent attacks…and, frankly, all of the suffering that we experience in this world.

And so, we practice yoga to break from this egoic illusion: that I am better than that, that we are better than they or more beautiful or righteous or right or wrong or more successful or politically sound.

Our practice connects us to our breath—the sacred unifying force of life.

We all come to the mat with different stories, different socio-economic backgrounds. We pray or don’t pray differently, make love differently, look different, smell different and wear different clothes.

Yet, we all come to the mat to get better…to feel better…to rise above our own muck and mire.

We work on our alone-ness, breaking the barriers to love we’ve built, in order to tap into our Oneness. In our deep moment of savasana, there is no right or wrong, Democrat or Republican, American or America-hater, beauty or ugliness, etc. We lift the veil of separateness (which is why it feels so damn good).

So, in this time of horror, where nothing makes sense, let us take pause.

Let us come to our mats, to feel our connection to the sacred and scared and afraid and ignorant.

Let us swim in the namaste pool: where I bow to the divine in you, as you bow to the divine in me; where I bow to the pain and love in you, as you bow to the pain and love in me.

Let us not feel alone. Let us not feel separate or better from those that suffer. Let us not feel right or wrong.

Rather, let us feel how we are connected—the suffering ends and the healing begins, within.

If I can feel connected to you, if you can feel connected to me, then we start breaking the cycle; we rise above falling victims to ego “rightness” and we right the atrocious wrong.

I’ll meet you there.


Chaz Russ: (E-RYT-500, T-500) founder and former owner of Sisters Yoga Fresno, CA, a devoted yoga teacher of eight years and practitioner for over eighteen years, Chaz believes yoga should not be serious, as life is serious enough. Achieving highest honors, Chaz graduated from Rutgers College with a degree in Genetics. While pursuing her PhD in Genetics, Chaz felt a deeper calling. She credits her guru Mike Noury, (Gurmukh) of Yoga of India, for encouraging her to share the gifts of Yoga through yoga teaching. Voted “Best LA Yoga Instructor, 2010” (LA Family Magazine) a lululemon ambassador (Calabasas), a Yoga Gives Back Ambassador, featured on the Dr. Phil Show and in the film Discover The Gift, (featuring HH Dalai Lama, Rev. Dr. Michael Beckwith, Marianne Williamson and others) Chaz loves teaching, writing and living yoga. Her joyful and vigorous classes are a fountain of fun. Through groovy, eclectic music, creative vinyasa and simple, yet powerful spirituality, Chaz’s classes provide a forum for release and an opportunity for soul transformation and growth in every student. Although she takes a lighter approach, she is serious when it comes to capitalizing on the healing benefits yoga affords. So much of this life and our yoga practice is about raising our consciousness, freeing ourselves from the cages of our egos and feeling our connectedness. Come celebrate yourself with Chaz and open your heart door to the beaming light that is within us all! For more information on Chaz, her classes, blog, or transformational retreats, please visit her website.



Editor: Bryonie Wise

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