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How Yoga Works

4 Apr

The yogi see himself in the heart of all beings,

and all being in his heart.”

The Bhagavad Gita

The mother and her pup stared inquisitively back at me as I raised the camera to snap their photograph. Sitting in a kayak on the glassy waters of Abra Cove in Kenai Fjords National Park in July of 1995, I never dreamed that one-day I would show up at a yoga conference, let alone, the two curious sea otters that bobbed in the water a few yards away. Though I was a regular practitioner of yoga at that time and occasionally enjoyed an asana practice on one Alaska’s beaches…at least whenever the weather and bugs cooperated, I didn’t quite get the intimate connection between yoga, my life as sea kayak guide, and the furry creatures in front of me.

When I moved to Berkeley California a few years later to attend Rodney Yee’s advanced studies program at the Piedmont Yoga Studio, the Coast of Alaska seemed like a long way away. Though I still went north for paddle trips each summer, those wilderness sojourns seemed a world apart from my busy life as full time yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area.

That all changed in the spring of 2009 when I sent a proposal to Chris Chapple, Doshi Professor of Indic & Comparative Theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, to present a program “Local Hero” at the Third Green Yoga Conference, Yoga, Animals and Ecology. Yoga had already worked its magic on my body, saving me from spinal surgery and allowing me to live an active pain-free life in spite of a structural problem with my lower back. And I’d experience the positive effects of regular practice mentally as well. With more breath awareness and better focus, my rock climbing skills improved in spite of a long layoff from the crags. But it was Chris’ enthusiastic and welcoming response, the very next day, to my query that really drove home yoga’s true potential….its power to integrate one’s life in ways that can never be predicted.

Today, I understand that yoga works on levels much more subtle than I ever imagined. Initially, I viewed my move to Berkeley and pursuit of yoga studies as an entirely separate path from my life in the outdoors. Now looking back through the years, I see all that time on the mat led right back to nature; I see a holistic life that came full circle that weekend in Los Angeles. All along the sea otter had been teaching me about the essence of yoga–that all things are entwined in a single sacred web, and all life is sacred.

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