I recently attended Omega's 2012 Being Yoga Conference Retreat at their beautiful Rhinebeck, N.Y. campus. This conference attracted me because I was interested in how the concept of "being yoga" can apply to personal transformation for the everyday person -- not just the avid yogi. Here's what I learned from seven of the country's most respected yoga teachers:
The question seasoned yogi Peter Sterios poses is "How do we deprogram the way we respond to situations in our life... all of the emotional stories that we tell ourselves?" His answer is self-awareness: "What's cool about this is once you become self-aware that this is a story, you can rewrite the script. The way you can test whether you are successful or not in making transformative changes is that the quality of your friendships start to change. The so-called 'problem people' in your life start to fall away. You start to see these incredible, dynamic people showing up in your life -- and it's a snowball effect."
Jivamukti co-founder Sharon Gannon shares: "We should remember that the intention underlying an action, whatever that action may be -- standing on our heads, jogging, washing dishes, making dinner, or making love -- will determine the outcome of that action. What is on our minds at the time we are doing whatever it is we are doing is more important to the outcome than what we are actually doing physically. Be careful what you wish for, because your thoughts are the most powerful force working upon you."
Yoga Shanti Owner Colleen Saidman Yee added, "It's really hard to be if we're doing, doing, doing, pushing, producing, trying to become somebody or something." She emphasized, "stepping off the treadmill and letting that be a routine every single day. Minus things from the schedule instead of adding things to the schedule." She acknowledged that it's really easy to say but really hard to do. I asked her how we start. She said, "To know that silent point I think you need to sit with it for awhile to become intimate with it to get to know it before you can go out and keep that connection."
Acclaimed teacher Rodney Yee shared: "When we can physically and mentally begin to associate ourselves to these still points we can in some way take this impermanence that is running around as busyness a little less serious and it then doesn't hook our spirit. You can do a lot in the world but you don't have to be crazy. We have to practice staying connected to that center once we find it and once we continue to find it so it's a moment by moment process."
Veteran yogi Beryl Bender Birch emphasized: "As we use these tools like the breath, a gazing point ... learning to be aware of alignment, and mindful attention -- all of these things are training us to pay attention -- to be present -- and that's where life is lived, in the present moment. Where else can we be? There is only now and so the more we're able to bring our attention to the present moment the less stress we create in our lives -- the more fully we're present. That leads to greater happiness, greater health."
OM Yoga Founder Cyndi Lee shared: "There is a notion in yoga called 'tapas' which is the seed of transformation. It refers to fire. I think of cooking or alchemy. It's the idea of bringing your whole self together and sometimes that is easy and delightful and sometimes it's not. I feel sometimes an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The devil is saying 'have a cookie and lie on the couch with a cappuccino and your dog and read a murder mystery.' And the other is like 'oh no you must do your yoga.' When those two get together there is some friction and if you stay with that, that is where the magic happens -- where the transformation happens."
Yoga Life Society Founder Rev. Jaganath Carrera shared: "Compassion is the most important symptom that we are experiencing connection with other people. If we don't have compassion it means everyone else is 'the other'. Compassion can only grow when we start to experience connection. And of all the virtues, compassion is the one that actually gets stronger in times of sorrow and strife because it feeds on that. So we can carry that with us even from the beginning of our spiritual quest."
Transformation is about moving closer to who you truly are. Anything that helps you do that is good. It could be music -- like the soul-stirring sounds we heard from Masood Ali Khan and Sheela Bringi the first evening of the conference, or simply the act of going on retreat to get away from your normal routine. The practices of yoga -- from the physical asana to the more subtle seated meditation -- can facilitate that process. It can make you more aware of everything that makes up your life. As yoga teacher Elena Brower said: "We become wherever we put our attention. If I put my attention on nature for 10 minutes of time, I become one with what I am looking at. If I put my attention on some really serious drama I will become one with that drama. If I put my attention on love and presence, I will become love and presence." There is always a step you can take to move you closer to the life you envision. Choose one place to start and begin again every day. Life is in the living -- not necessarily the planning or doing -- but simply the being.
Watch Conference Coverage:
Check out the entire series in video over the coming weeks:
Peter Sterios on "Going Within"
Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman Yee on "Being Yoga"
Beryl Bender Birch on "Being Present"
Cyndi Lee on "Integrating your Self"
Reverend Jaganath Carrera on "Yoga and Spirituality"
Elena Brower on "The Art of Attention"
Masood Ali Khan and Sheela Bringi on "Music and the Spirit"
Be sure to read the conversation with Sharon Gannon on "Yoga, Life and Being Vegan."
This post is part of "Being Yoga," a series on using yoga to transform your life. Dr. Terri Kennedy interviews some of the most respected yoga teachers in the country.
Dr. Kennedy is the founder of Ta Yoga, which operated one of the first yoga studios in Harlem. She also served six years on the Board of Yoga Alliance -- which sets the standards for yoga teaching in the U.S. Now, she applies the principles and techniques from yoga to the Power Living coaching process in order to help people have the clarity and energy to reach their highest potential. Check out her coaching services, private yoga training, inspirational products and/or speaking services.
For relaxation right now, try Dr. Kennedy's latest 1-Minute Mini-Escape. For inspiration for your transformation, listen to Watch the Gap. Also, read about Mindfulness as a Path to Sustainability and about The Power of Meditation.
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