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Lauren Maslen

You settled here: how the Boulder Tattoo Project inked and linked a community forever

A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project gets tattooed at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen
A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project gets tattooed at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen

By Lauren Maslen

Where can you call home? Is it the town your family lives in? The city you grew up in? Or maybe it’s where you choose to raise your own children. Do you choose your home or does it choose you?

Line 77 of the “Boulder Zodiac,” a poem written by Anne Waldman for the Boulder Tattoo Project, reads “you settled here.” This phrase rings true for many participants of the Boulder Tattoo Project, including the project’s manager, Chelsea Pohl. These participants all had a word or a phrase from Waldman’s poem inked onto their bodies as an ode to Boulder.

“The rest of the world is just not as perfect. It’s contradictory: it’s easy to live here, yet it’s challenging. It’s challenging to become an adult here, but it’s a desire,” Pohl said.

Pohl originally hails from Lexington, Ky. She started the Boulder Tattoo Project as an offspring of the original Lexington version. Her husband, Vincent Bachert, welcomed the task of inking over 200 project participants in the couple’s studio, Claw and Talon, with the help of several other Boulder tattoo artists.

Two-hundred Boulderites were brought together through the collaborative efforts of Pohl, Waldman, and many others along the way. These tattoo artists were essential in manifesting the art, poetry, and above all, the feeling of Boulder’s interconnected community, onto project participants’ skin.

In May 2013, Pohl summed up her 13 years of experience in Boulder along with her feelings about the town in her “Love Letter to Boulder.” She also set forward her intentions for the Tattoo Project.

“I think if I’m going to ask people to commit so permanently to their love for this city, I better be clear that I love this city just as deeply as I’m expecting them to,” she wrote.

A Blessing or a Curse? 

During the mid-19th century, Chief Niwot was a leader of the Southern Arapaho tribe in the area that is now the Boulder Valley. Upon the arrival of white settlers searching for gold in 1858, Niwot supposedly cursed all future settlers. This is now known as “Niwot’s Curse.”

“People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty,” Arapahoe Chief Niwot supposedly said in 1858 – or so the legend goes.

And how do you get rid of such a curse?

“Go up to a certain part of the Flatirons and eat some dirt,” Pohl said. “That’s the only way to get rid of the curse.”

While some may call Niwot’s words a curse, others only read them as a blessing.

One tattoo recipient regaled fellow ink enthusiasts with Chief Niwot’s tale at Claw and Talon on Saturday, Nov. 2nd during one of the busiest days of the shop’s week-long tattooing marathon. Participants also shared stories about why they chose their specific word or phrase from Anne Waldman’s “Boulder Zodiac.”

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Why Ink?

Tom Klenow is no stranger to ink needles; his arms are home to full, colorful tattoo sleeves. Originally from Fargo, North Dakota, Tom said recently moving to Boulder gives his tattoo and the project more significance, “in the sense that I feel more at home here than I ever did in North Dakota.” Up the Boulder was his chosen phrase.

Lisa Roberts got her tattoo on the side of her right foot. It was her first. “I’m getting who. You can make it mean anything,” Roberts said. Although not originally from Boulder, Roberts has lived in in the town for over 25 years and said it’s “home.” Boulder was her number one reason for joining the project.

Kim Goldman received over surface just below her left collarbone. “It’s a unique phrase and a unique spot to get it,” she said. “It will have meaning for me… someday.”

Sean Held and Sierra Held are father and daughter. They were tattooed together on the project’s second day. Sean got the phrase keep scales aligning on his shin while Sierra chose go asymmetrical along her thigh.

“‘Asymmetrical means nothing’s the same: be unique, be yourself; be awesome. It’s hide-able, but also show-able,” Sierra said. Her father had a different reason for his chosen phrase.

“I always work hard at being the best person I can be. I’m balancing back and forth between the things I need to do and the decisions I need to make,” Sean said.

Jessika Fleck’s forearm is now labeled, “your mind stays.” She wrote about the meaning of her tattoo on her blog, harking back to an accident she had two years ago in which she hit her head. At times, Fleck said, she thought she was losing her mind.

“No matter how many loops the roller coaster has or if you happen to hit your head on a window, your mind can’t be lost or stolen,” Fleck wrote.  

A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen
A participant of the Boulder Tattoo Project at Claw and Talon. // Photo by Lauren Maslen

Forty-five Boulderites were tattooed on Saturday. Despite the constant flow of people waiting for tattoos in Claw and Talon that weekend, the artists maintained their excitement. “Their attitudes are amazing. They’re getting the energy of the people,” Pohl said. “They’re juiced on it.”

Stories like this are what make the whole project worth it to Pohl. During the first weekend of tattooing for the project, word of mouth spread as participants began posting photos, blog entries, poems, and Facebook posts as odes to their tattoos and the Boulder Tattoo Project.

“I cried out of joy, because that’s what makes it worth it – when people share their stories. I’m hoping we’ll get more of that,” Pohl said.

Where do you call home?

To participate, project volunteers had to meet certain criteria, including but not limited to: “Consider Boulder home” and “love Boulder,” the latter being the number one motivator for participants.

“We were told Boulder is a very transient town,” said Kremena Todorova, one of the founding artists of the original Lexington Tattoo Project. Todorova said that although she and Kurt Gohde, her partner in the Lexington Tattoo Project, were primed to feel this way before visiting Boulder, they also spoke to many project participants who are Boulder transplants.

“It gets harder to stay here as you get older, because you have more responsibilities,” said Pohl.

“I have settled here, and it’s like a settling. It’s a work in progress and it’s a challenge to leave my hometown and to drive my stake here and hope it stays. I definitely feel like it’s my home, though.”

The Elephant in the Room: Elephant Journal’s Waylon Lewis talks local politics and why we should care

With local elections swiftly approaching, many young Boulderites may be thinking: so what?

Elephant Journal, a popular online publication based in Boulder, prides itself on, “Spreading good news beyond the choir to those who weren’t sure they gave a care.”

I recently caught up with Waylon Lewis, founder of  Elephant Journal, to learn why hosting an open forum with Boulder City Council candidates is important and relevant in today’s political realm, and why we should all “give a care.”

Waylon Lewis is the founder of the Elephant Journal and hosts the Walk the Talk Show.
Waylon Lewis is the founder of the Elephant Journal and hosts the Walk the Talk Show.
The Boulder City Council candidates participated in an open forum hosted by the Elephant Journal at Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place Wednesday, Oct. 16th.
The Boulder City Council candidates participated in an open forum hosted by the Elephant Journal at Shine Restaurant and Gathering Place Wednesday, Oct. 16th.

Deep Roots Inspire Community: the artistic upbringing of the Boulder Tattoo Project’s Chelsea Pohl

By Lauren Maslen

Chelsea Pohl is a kaleidoscope. As the project manager of the Boulder Tattoo Project, Chelsea has her eyes set on many artistic ventures and she isn’t set to stop anytime soon.

“She snatches the right opportunities when they arise,” explains her sister, Alyssum Pohl. “But she’s patient. That’s why she’s successful.”

Chelsea Pohl's series of dinosaur paintings is on display at Logan's Espresso Cafe in Boulder.
Chelsea Pohl’s series of dinosaur paintings is on display at Logan’s Espresso Cafe in Boulder.

Chelsea paints dinosaurs. She paints blood splatters, cats, and critters. She is also a photographer and sculptor. She teaches art classes; writes and illustrates children’s books; owns a tattoo studio with her husband, Vinny, and raises two daughters named Tiger and Phoenix (which the tattoo studio, Claw and Talon, is named after). Chelsea manages all of this while successfully bringing the Boulder Tattoo Project to its new home. The project is a community-wide creative initiative which begins inking after Halloween, and Chelsea has been preparing for months.

Chelsea is a hardworking businesswoman, entrepreneur, artist, and mother. She’s inspired, she says, and this inspiration is a gift she hopes she can pass on to others.

“I feel like Boulder is pretty conservative when it comes to the arts. I just want to find a way to crack open the rigidness when it comes to that… I’m working on it.”

Deep Roots Lead to Sharp Peaks

Chelsea moved to Boulder when she was 17 years old. She knew she loved it long before that, however; the initial view of the Flatirons while driving over the hills of Route 36 for the first time struck a nerve with her when she was 13. It was an “aha!” moment she would never forget.

“I had a premonition I would live here one day.”

Chelsea was accepted into Naropa University at age 16.

“I had my trajectory; I knew what I was doing.”

Life would take its turns, leading to more travel and a life in Boulder. The people she would meet along the way would be the catalyst to a life of art, innovation, and inspiration.

Chelsea Pohl co-owns Claw and Talon Tattoo on Folsom Street in Boulder with her husband, Vinny.
Chelsea Pohl co-owns Claw and Talon Tattoo on Folsom Street in Boulder with her husband, Vinny.

Chelsea grew up in Kentucky in a family that some might consider slightly less than rigid. When she was 7, Chelsea’s parents took her, Chelsea’s sister and two kittens sailing between the East Coast and Bahamas for a year  “When you’re living on a boat, you don’t have anything around you. You’re limited to where you are,” Alyssum said. Creativity came into play: the sisters were each other’s playmates, they invented languages and were artistic. “This translated into our adult lives – whatever you’re motivated to do, do it. No one’s going to do it for you.”

Merm was one of the kittens that lived on the boat with the family. “Merm talk,” an invented language, progressed out of Chelsea’s childhood obsession with the cat. Now she has written and illustrated several books based on him, including “The Adventures of Merm the Cat,” which was released in August 2010.

After some slight hiccups with a book deal, Chelsea decided to self-publish. She said she doesn’t know how people received the Merm books, but that’s not the point.

“A lot of times I just do things because I love them… just cause that’s your natural expression.”

The Boulder Tattoo Project

The Boulder Tattoo Project came out of Lexington, Ky. A collaborative started by two artists, Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, the Lexington Tattoo Project is an ongoing project containing the elements of a poem, tattoos, photography, and now a book.

“Chelsea is the first person to invite us and this Tattoo Project artwork to another city besides our own,” Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova wrote in an email.

Chelsea learned about the project through her sister, Alyssum, and decided she wanted to bring the project to her adopted hometown. She went back to Lexington where Gohde and Todorova invited her to take part in the Lexington initiation.

“That just made sense! I’m the bridge between the two cities,” said Chelsea.

Vinny did her tattoos in Lexington. “Deep Roots” now rest respectively on each of her ankles.

Chelsea remarks that it was a good experience to reconnect with her old town, a place she doesn’t often go back to.

The Boulder Tattoo Project's next event will be at the Laughing Goat Cafe on Pearl Street on Halloween night. Participants and the public are invited to attend. A silent auction with donations from local artists and vendors will benefit Boulder flood relief.
The Boulder Tattoo Project’s next event will be at the Laughing Goat Cafe on Pearl Street on Halloween night. Participants and the public are invited to attend. A silent auction with donations from local artists and vendors will benefit Boulder flood relief.

The tattoo projects are all about community. They are about showing love of one’s city. It’s not just about tattoos. The project is about peoples’ connections to their city and how they express that. How else can one usually do so besides living in a town?

Chelsea will be conducting a demographic survey at the tattooing to see what participants’ backgrounds involve. All kinds of people get involved with the project.  “There are a lot of first time tattoo-ees,” Chelsea said.

“People are really excited. People are saying, ‘This feels bigger than me.’”

The Boulder Tattoo Project will not only consist of tattoos. The multimedia collaborative will feature the poem “Boulder Zodiac” by Anne Waldman; words and phrases of the poem as tattoos; photography of the tattoos and their owners; a music score by Gregory Alan Isakov; and a final film which will combine all of these individual elements.

“Chelsea has set an extremely high bar for the people that we will work with in other cities–she has been twice the collaborator we hoped for and Boulder is so lucky to have her,” Gohde said.

Want to get involved in the project? It’s not too late!

Even though the project has given away its 200 words and phrases from Anne Waldman’s “Boulder Zodiac” poem, those still wanting to get involved in the Boulder Tattoo Project can receive commas for the shop’s $50 minimum. They won’t be covered by the art grants which are supporting the project, but they will allow Boulderites to feel like a part of the community and the Boulder Tattoo Project – exactly what Chelsea hopes to achieve.

 

Dollars for downward dogs: Colorado yogis flow for Boulder flood relief

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By Lauren Maslen

Boulder’s tight-knit yoga community reacted to last week’s floods by banding together to raise money and awareness for flood victims.

Local Impact

CorePower Yoga is a Colorado-based company. It began in Denver and currently has studios in 12 states. The company held donation-based classes in each of their studios around Colorado over the weekend. Donations will benefit the Red Cross and CorePower will match every dollar earned statewide.

Joy Shanley, a teacher at Boulder’s CorePower Yoga, said holding these donation-based classes was “only the right thing to do.”

“One of our instructors had to be rescued by a boat,” Shanley said. “He got evacuated from his house. He still showed up for boot camp. He is dedicated and he got through it all with a smile on his face. We have an instructor who lives in Lyons and she’s still stuck.”

Mark Stefanowski is another instructor at CorePower Yoga and a co-owner of Outlaw Yoga.

“You know how you feel after a yoga class? You feel good. You wanna give that to other people. When things are tough, teaching gives an opportunity to give that away. You can give that in a donation class and support your community. Yoga should be fun and if it’s fun, people will come and they’ll donate more.”

The Power of Community

Alec Rouben, 22, is a yoga teacher and a CU-Boulder Chinese language student from Louisville, Kentucky. Rouben teaches free community yoga classes every weekend at South Boulder’s CorePower Yoga and prAna, an outdoor clothing company located on Pearl Street. His classes are consistently packed with 30 to 40 students.

“Yoga is about community,” Rouben said. “That wordunity, is so important. We can let go or we can accept. That is what yoga teaches us.”

He said his classes both teach him and allow him to serve in his community.

“This has become my mantra,” he said, “Being of service allows me to be present.”

This weekend, Rouben was supposed to be offering students the ability to donate to flood relief victims during his scheduled Sunday prAna class. That was until classes at Boulder’s prAna store and studio were cancelled so the company could host a clothing drive for flood victims.

“PrAna corporate donated about 500 articles of clothing, which we have downstairs in our yoga studio right now,” Nicole Adams, the store’s yoga events coordinator said. “We’ve invited people affected by the floods to come and pick out clothing for free. It’s been really, really awesome. It’s been really emotional for everyone involved.”

Adams said the company promoted their event on their community chalkboard on Pearl Street as well as through social media on Facebook and Twitter.

Rouben will still donate any money he makes during his class at prAna next week to Boulder Flood Relief. “Whether I make $5 or $80, it’s all going directly to the people who really need it.”

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Want to Get Involved?

There are many ways to help for yogis and non-yogis alike. Community clean-ups, events, and food and clothing drives are happening all around the Boulder and Denver area throughout September and October. Here are a few events happening soon:

  • Every morning at 9 a.m. through Sept. 29: Donation-based yoga with live music at the Agora Event Center in Boulder.
  • Monday, Sept. 23 at 6 p.m.: Do some yoga, drink some beer, and donate to a good cause during Beerasana at Shine Brewery in Boulder.
  • Monday, Sept. 30 at 7 p.m.: We Flow for Colorado’s fundraiser. The event will is set to include live music, yoga, and an afterparty at Wynkoop Brewing Company in Denver.
  • Sunday, Oct. 10 at 11 a.m.: Donation-based Outlaw Yoga at the Tasty Weasel Tap Room in Longmont, Colo.

For regularly updated listings of local Boulder and Denver charitable yoga events, check out Boulderyogaproject.org,  Outlawyoga.com, or Off the Mat Colorado on Facebook.

THE THEORY OF RELATIVITY

The following was published on 10 September 2013 on www.oregonsportsnews.com

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I’m naturally a high strung person; I always have been. I consider myself easygoing, openminded, and wholeheartedly accepting, but I am an archetypal Hermione Granger. I tend to care too much for my own good, sometimes resisting the natural flow of life without even realizing it. Maybe one day a light will dim in my mind, inspiring me to just let go, but today was not that day. Tomorrow might not be either and I’m okay with that; I have homework to do.

It takes me a long time to feel resistance when it seeps into my being. Sometimes I think I’m open and aware before realizing I’m thinking too much. I’m judging. I’m judging myself, my actions, and I’m even judging myself for judging myself.

That chaturanga sucked. Elbows in.

You can downdog better that! Lock it up!

So… hum. So hum. Sohumsohumsohum. I AM. Focus!

Stop thinking so much and just savasana already. Breathe. Relax. Stop, brain!

“You are the least yogi yogi in the world,” a good friend said to me after practice one night.

Here’s the thing: I’m a passionate person and I’m an intense person. I like caffeine – maybe too muchI like bungee jumping. One time in college, I hitchhiked to Morocco for spring break. I tend to push myself to extreme limits, but I’m still a Hermione; I am me. That judgmental voice in my brain tends to remain a little cautious, even when I’m living at my edge. I find it hard to turn my brain off and give in to gravity; to trust the ways of the world and just allow myself to be. Maybe this means I resist a little too much, a little too often.

Resistance can serve us, however; it can be our ally, helping to tune out negativity. It can help us do what we want and ultimately, that is what is important. In the end, if we are not living our lives according to our own truths – our svadharma – what is the point?

If I choose a strong practice one day go with that nit-picky voice in my head telling me to keep my elbows tucked and my belly in, then that may serve me in the moment. If what I’m searching for counteracts what I’m being told I “should” do – either by myself or anyone else – then following that feeling may serve me best, both on and off my mat.

At my yoga teacher’s training, we meditated for two hours every day. Meditations sometimes led to visions that didn’t make sense at the time. In between detailed plans of what I’d eat for lunch that day, I’d often see myself free falling backwards into darkness. Sometimes a hand would reach out to me. I could only assume this meant something at the moment, but as time goes on, it’s making more and more sense.

There is power in giving in; going with the flow; and doing exactly what you want. No one is going to stop you from doing things your way except you. If you put your best self out there – your free flowing, natural, true self, without forcing or resisting anything – others will feel that. People will see how much you care and will have ultimate respect for that rather than stopping you. Rather than living in self-judgment, caution, and resistance: give in. Give in to gravity. Give in to yourself. Resist the can’ts, shoulds and should nots of the world; but don’t resist yourself.

Six months after witnessing myself fall into oblivion, this is my practice.

A JOURNEY OF BEING

The following was published on www.oregonsportsnews.com on 27 August 2013.

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I’m starting graduate school today. It’s a day I’ve been waiting for nearly six months. It’s been six months of uncertainty and busting my butt. There were several months of vulnerability and some well-earned cynicism thrown in for good measure. It hasn’t been an easy road, but I do have more patience, a new tattoo, and an even better sense of humor to show for it. My devotion to my practice got me through it and although it’s been a challenge, everything I’ve learned along the journey made me a stronger person. In the words of a new yogi friend, “It’s all a practice.” A practice I am extremely grateful for.

I jumped up and down on my bed out of sheer joy when I found out I was accepted into grad school. It was pure exhilaration. I was deep into my yoga practice and in love with my life and friends in South Korea, but I was ready to head “home” to America. This letter of acceptance could only be equated to receiving an owl from Hogwarts. Future stability had been granted to me; I had a way “out.”

A way out of what? I was only slightly aware of the complete black hole of the unknown I’d soon launch myself into. As the days neared and the fear of the unknown settled in, the stability and love I grew accustomed to in Seoul seemed to shatter. I flew out of the country and my adopted family was torn away from me. It felt like I was separating from five pieces of my own soul; it was pure heartbreak.

Yoga has helped me heal. No matter how much I struggled to find a regular physical asana practice while traveling and moving around the world, the core of my practice has continuously grown stronger. Yoga kept me motivated; it kept me passionate; and ultimately, it kept me going through the tough challenges.

Yoga teaches present moment awareness. It means unity. Unity of the body to the mind; of breath to movement; of our souls to the universe and to all that is around usEverything is connected. Nothing is separate. My practice is constantly teaching me to let go of a desire to control. We cannot control future situations or anyone else’s thoughts, words, or actions. We can only be responsible for our own actions and attitudes toward situations.

My teacher once said, “The power of present moment awareness can heal everything – goodness and virtue will enter into the moment.” I’m finding this to be true more and more lately. What will be will be and our lives will continue to flow on; however, each action, reaction, and the energy we cultivate will affect everything around us.  This is Karma. This is also known as being a decent human being.

We cannot change the past; we cannot change the future. All we can do is here and now. Whether that is on the mat or off makes no difference.

With pure gratitude and an open heart, Namaste.

LITTLE BOXES MADE OF TICKY TACKY

The following was published on www.oregonsportsnews.com on 19 August 2013.

 

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A few months ago, an old beau told me I was messy. I took offense to this because messy makes me think dirty, and dirty means smelly. That’s gross. I’m none of those things. I am a classy lady, dammit. A classy lady with a lot of papers on my desk.

I thought back to this conversation and back to He Who Shall Not Be Named. Although we’ll forever be connected by a complementary distaste of stupid people, a love of good music, and a set of matching tattoos, I’m finally at peace with why we’ll never “work out.” But that’s how Karma works, isn’t it?

I have big, huge ideas. I have life goals and dreams so big that I can’t contain them inside a neat little box with a bow in the recesses of my brain. My desk reflects this in its constant clutter. No matter how hard I try to keep it aesthetically tidy, it’ll forever be a realm of organized chaos.

Some people like their lives to be compartmentalized. They like neat little containers for their things: their papers, their knick knacks, their thoughts, their ideas, their time and their life plans. I’ve realized that I’m not one of those people. My ideas don’t fit into nice little drawers. I don’t have a solid five year plan. The house in the suburbs with the family and the cubicle job is not in my foreseeable future. That future looks more like a Jackson Pollock painting in my brain. For now, I’m grateful that Future Me will at least be attending graduate school for the next two years.

That’s not to say I don’t plan ahead – in fact, I do just the opposite by working my butt off everyday – but who’s to say that the HR department at my dream job will decide to hire me after graduation? Or that my home will still be here tomorrow? Or that my dreams, goals, and life will take me in the same direction as I’m feeling now?

Yoga has taught me to move with my breath and to flow. That is Vinyasa; that is my yoga practice and my life is no different. I can breathe through difficulties. I can conquer resistances I didn’t even know I carried. Walls can melt away, allowing me to expand, open, stretch, and grow in ways I didn’t even realize were possible.

Once we start putting our lives into boxes, however, we contain and put limits on ourselves; we can no longer flow. We must use labels. I’m a student; I’m a teacher; I’m a daughter; a sister; I’m 24; I’m brunette and short. These are superficial; they’re impermanent and they can change in an instant. Except the “I am short” part. That’s forever.

Ask yourself – despite these ever-changing labels – who am I? If you can remove the superficialities and the impermanence, the only thought you may hear is silenceI am. I exist. “That is the point,” explained my teacher. “Once you can touch the present moment, there’s nothing else to do. That is enlightenment.”

If you’re the type of person who enjoys arranging your life into boxes, then by all means, organize away, my Type-A friend. Every once in a while, though, see how it feels to peek over the edges of the walls. Breathe some air. Maybe jump on top of that box, stretch your legs, and keep this Tibetan proverb in mind:

“Tomorrow or the next life, you never know which will come first.”

Om shanti & Namaste, friends. 

“I’M ONLY HERE FOR THE FOOD” AND OTHER EXCUSES YOU CAN’T MAKE IN YOGA

The following was published on www.oregonsportsnews.com on 9 August 2013. 

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Why are you here?

For whatever Karmic reason, this question that has come up innumerable times throughout the past year of my life. Sometimes the answer is simple and mundane; sometimes it’s cloudy and convoluted. Other times, the answer is simply handed to me, as if Big Brother has been watching me or reading my thoughts.

This happened one day in Yoga Camp during a minor existential crisis, in which I jottedWhy am I here? into my notebook. The answer came to me from a friendly voice across the room.

“You’re here to wake up. Realize your fullest potential.”

Big Brother in this case was in fact not a creeper or terrifying government watchdog, but a teacher I look up to with great respect and admiration. He announced the answer I was searching for as if directly on cue. It was my last day of yoga philosophy class in Thailand.

I began intensive yoga practice last year with just that intention in mind – long before learning about sva dharma, burning Karma through meditation, or the “auspiciousness” of full moons. Although I started practicing yoga when I was twelve years old, it wasn’t until last fall that I realized I needed to commit to a change in my life. I decided that change would be through yoga – a practice I’d long felt connected, but never fully committed to.

Sva dharma, a Sanskrit word for our natural state, is why we’re here. In other words, it’s You Doing You. Why else should we be here than to live life as our truest selves? To be “all that we can be” and reach our highest potential, as my teacher would say?

Sometimes that means taking a step back and simply witnessing all that is in order to “wake up.” For some of us this means silent meditation or practicing in a yoga class while for others it may be running, biking, swimming, CrossFit, or simply “alone time” to decompress.

While it may be difficult to take the time, patience, and silence away from daily life, it’s a vitally important aspect of why we’re here. Are you here to work overtime and stress eat while worrying about bills? Are you here to watch Keeping up with the Kardashians reruns? Or are you here to commit to a greater potential? To “wake up” to all that you’re capable of?

“There is nothing you can do to gain happiness,” my teacher said. “Happiness is in your natural state of being. Be in the here and now. That is yoga.”

As I continue my yoga practice on and off the mat, I encourage you to do the same. Work hard; sweat; find some kind of practice. Take a moment of silence and unearth what speaks to you. Don’t just ask why you’re here. Discover your yoga, your sva dharma. Go do you.

Sat Chit Ananda and Namaste, friends.

DEAR YOGA TEACHERS OF AMERICA: PLEASE STOP TALKING

 

The following article was published on www.oregonsportsnews.com on 25 July 2013.

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Yoga is my quiet time. Rather than laying comatose in bed with a package of Oreos and the complete series of 30 Rock on Netflix, I attend yoga class to decompress. My practice is a time for me to feel good about myself, my abilities, and to push my physical body just past the limit I usually think possible.

So when a song comes on during class that reminds me of an ex-boyfriend, I may need to stifle the urge to punch the teacher in the face.

I moved back to the United States nearly five months ago. I constantly find it hard to believe that I’ve been back this long and I’m still struggling to accept the differences between a culture I grew to love in Asia, and this culture I grew up with and returned to. It’s also been a constant battle to find a steady yoga practice within the United States. Perhaps it’s just part of re-adapting to American culture, but I’m really not used to everyone talking so much during yoga.

I’ve become faced with the seemingly obvious, but sudden realization about yoga classes in this country: they’re all about language. I come from a yoga background and personal practice in which I avoid speaking during class or listening to any words but right, left, hand, and foot at all costs. If it doesn’t involve a body part I should move, I don’t really want to hear about it.

As both an English teacher and a devoted yoga practitioner, I find it easy to get caught up in language. My meditative asana time isn’t really set aside for me to hear your personal opinions about my ego or how I should let go of judgment, dear yoga teacher;  it’s finally a time during my day when I don’t have to lend a friendly listening ear, so please, just shut up.

When I lived in South Korea, I found a teacher who I grew devoted to. I attended her classes every weekday. She didn’t speak much English. I loved her.

Korean Yoga Teacher: “It is cold today.”

Me: Yes, yes it is.

American teachers are different, however. Since moving back to the United States, I’ve had a hard time finding anyone similar.

American Yoga Teacher: “I was watching squirrels play this morning. Be like the squirrel! Play! Smile!”

Me: It’s hot as Hell in here and I’m sweating my face off, dude. Don’t tell me to play like a squirrel.

I loved my classmates and experiencing their different styles of teaching throughout my Yoga Teacher Training in Thailand, but not once did anyone talk about squirrels. Forrest Gump and double rainbow references? Plenty. Memories of ex-boyfriends via sad acoustic music? Thankfully not.

I know there are good yoga teachers in America, and I’m currently on a quest to find them. Beer-asana and Pink Floyd Yoga may work for some people, but they don’t get my chakras vibrating. So I’d like to know, what’s your experience with yoga classes in America? Have you found a teacher who you can devote your time and sanity to?

 

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