Yoga: A Spiritual Practice Turned Glamour Shoot

I took my first yoga class when I was twenty years old. My co-workers were going to try a hot yoga class. I joined them and could barely do the poses without shaking. The next day my ankles to neck were so sore I had to take an Advil. I didn’t have any opinion towards yoga prior to trying it but after that class my perception was that it was tough.

I didn’t take my next class until I was 25 in Costa Rica. A trip I took as a first step in battling my depression. I came home and joined a small studio with only 5 -8 people per class. After persistent dedication, the results were real. Although I noticed if I didn’t frequently practice I would revert back to a depressive state quickly.

I eventually felt myself outgrowing the studio and found a hot yoga studio that was less of a commute. I had two instructors that changed my life. The one was a yin yoga teacher who literally glowed as she walked. I had been curious about yin and was excited to take the class. I knew the in yin you had to hold the pose for minutes long instead of just a couple breaths but I didn’t realize that it was the poses that targeted your tissues not your muscles. It was excruciating but it became my sanity.

I went every Thursday night and every Friday morning I took a Jivamukti class with an instructor who didn’t exactly glow as he walked, but he preached as he instructed the class. Even though he had a dark energy around him his classes were restorative and always full because he was that good. The pessimist in me loved that about him.

 I remember one day he said, “People tell me to stop being so negative, but I’m negative because I care.”

And on another, “I do yoga and I’m still miserable, but without yoga I’d be even more miserable.”

I believe those things stay in my mind because there isn’t enough discussion or self-help books on how to partake in yoga as an anti-social pessimist. Being anti-social and a pessimist aren’t the most admirable traits but being anti-social and a pessimist are actually completely normal traits. And in a society where being this way is unfavorable life can become unbearable.

In the words of Carl Jung,

“Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”

I know now that yoga does not teach you that you should be mystical and light to obtain inner peace. In fact, staying true to yourself is the fastest way to obtain it.  

Then he criticized current western yoga culture. We were in forward fold, or in Sanskrit Paschimottanasana.  You are seated with your legs straight out in front of you and you’re folded over your thighs, hands fall wherever your body allows them too. It looks easy and is one of the most therapeutic positions when he said,

“How’s that for glamour!”

And he was right. There are three misconceptions about yoga. The first is that it is not a workout and that all it is is stretching.  However, yoga is also about balance and to obtain balance in each pose requires activating your muscles which is strength work. A lot of poses require strong arms. Plus, there is lunges, half push-ups, planks and needing a strong core. It is in fact a full body workout. The second being that it is a religion. However, yoga does not tell you to believe in any specific divine entity. Which is why people from different religions, cultures and backgrounds practice it. It can literally be whatever you want it to be. The third misconception is that you need to be able to do the most intricate of the poses to achieve the ultimate benefits of yoga. Which is also not true but flowing through the images on social media where half naked women are in some twisted extravagant pose challenges that notion.

 A practice that teaches us to look inward now seeks outward attention and fame.

Which is why I have much respect for my mentors in my yoga teacher training. Even though I dream of teaching yoga as an early retirement gig. I was a couple months yoga free and needed to decompress – hard. So, I joined a certification training. They didn’t just teach us about proper alignment and how to direct a class. They taught us about the history of yoga. The yamas, pranayama, the chakras, Sanskrit and the more I learn about yoga my perspective about it changes. The way I meditate changes. How I practice changes.

More so as a certified yoga teacher I question whether teaching it would ruin it for me because as much as I would love to earn a living doing something I love; I feel making money off of it would taint it. Not because I am making money off it but because it might eventually make me anxious that I have to make money off of it to survive.

I had another yoga instructor who after a glitch with the website I owed money to, said ‘I hate the business side of it.’ I think I would too.

Digital workouts are on the rise especially due to Covid-19 but there is no comparison to being in an actual class. Walking into a yoga studio, for the most part, is like walking into a sacred place. Where we are all there for more or less the same thing…peace within ourselves. In an online session you can’t modify the student if they aren’t in a proper form and you can’t feel the essence of the room shift from the beginning to end. In the beginning people come dragging in with the weight of their day or week or life on their mind.  By the end it feels like a piece of you was put back into place. Although you could potentially feel this way in your own space after you turn off the TV or computer, yoga coincides with the earth and technology isn’t a natural part of the earth. More so, yoga is a journey that heals relationships between people. To be a in a room with others who experience it’s benefits only magnifies the power of it.

This makes digital training overall an impersonal experience and if I am going to teach someone yoga, I want to not just teach them the poses. I want to help them heal and a computer or tv screen is stunting the full beauty of that.

Yoga is an individual spiritual journey and electromagnetic waves have no place in the spirit. The beauty of a pose isn’t how you look in it. It’s how you feel in it. And it is a stain that another piece of the physical world is succumbing to the digital one.


Rumi Favorites

Back in 2016, I read a book called The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak. A historical-fiction novel partially based during the time of Rumi. I have since followed his writings and the quotes that circulate through the internet don’t do his wisdom justice. These are some of my favorite poems or excerpts from the scholar turned poet.

The below all can be found in The Essential Rumi translated by Coleman Barks. I think it is worth mentioning the following introductions to two of the chapters.

” Some sufis have seen the beauties of art as something that can slow down soul growth. Art gives the teasing taste of surrender without the full experience.”

“There’s a game that’s remembered in Iran called moshaereh, which means ‘being in company with poetry.’ One person says a line from Rumi, then the next person must begin a Rumi line with the word the first person’s ended with. And so on for hours, I’m told, before television deadened the psyche, a family or a group of friends might continue. Rumi was not the only poet used. It might be Hafiz, or Attar, or others. Poetry wove together the fabric of community and kept it lively. We have nothing comparable, except the nights of trading poems back and forth that sometimes happen in gatherings.

In December of 1273 when Rumi died, representatives of every major religion came to his funeral. In the midst of the crusades and violent sectarian conflict he said, ‘I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church and I see one altar.’ And he made it clear in other places that someone who considers religion or nation an important human category is in danger of severing the heart from its ability to act compassionately. This is a radical idea now, but Rumi held the conviction in the thirteenth century with such deep gentleness that its truth was recognized.

From A Man and Woman Arguing
“Spiritual arrogance is the ugliest of all things.”

From Childhood Friends
“There is nothing worse than thinking you are well enough. More than anything, self complacency blocks the workmanship. Put your vileness up to a mirror and weep. Get that self-satisfaction flowing out of you! Satan thought ‘I am better than Adam,’ and that better than is still strongly in us.”

From Cry Out in Your Weakness
“Be patient. Respond to every call that excites your spirit. Ignore those that make you fearful and sad, that degrade you back toward disease and death.”

What Jesus Runs Away From
The son of Mary, Jesus, hurries up a slope as though a wild animal were chasing him. Someone following asks, “Where are you going? No one is after you.’ Jesus keeps on, saying nothing, across two more fields. ‘Are you the one who says words over a dead person, so that he wakes up?’ I am. ‘Did you make the clay birds fly?’ Yes. ‘Who then could possibly cause you to run like this?’

I say the Great Name over the deaf and the blind, they are healed. Over a stony mountainside, and it tears its mantle down to the navel. Over non-existence, it comes into existence. But when I speak lovingly for hours, for days, with those who take human warmth and mock it, when I say the Name to them, nothing happens. They remain rock, or turn to sand, where no plants can grow. Other diseases are ways for mercy to enter, but this non-responding breeds violence and coldness toward God. I am fleeing from that. As little by little air steals water, so praise dries up and evaporates with foolish people who refuse to change. Like cold stone you on a cynic steals body heat. He doesn’t feel the sun. Jesus wasn’t running from actual people. He was teaching in a new way.

Craftsmanship and Emptiness
I’ve said before that every craftsman searches for what’s not there to practice his craft. A builder looks for the rotten hole
where the roof caved in. A water carrier picks the empty pot. A carpenter stops at the house with no door. Workers rush toward some hint of emptiness, which they then start to fill. Their hope, though, is for emptiness, so don’t think
you must avoid it. It contains what you need!

Dear soul, if you were not friends with the vast nothing inside, why would you always be casting your net
into it, and waiting so patiently? This invisible ocean has given you such abundance, but still you call it “death,” that which provides you sustenance and work. God has allowed some magical reversal to occur, so that you see the scorpion pit as an object of desire, and all the beautiful expanse around it as dangerous and swarming with snakes.

This is how strange your fear of death and emptiness is, and how perverse the attachment to what you want. Now that you’ve heard me on your misapprehensions, dear friend, listen to Attar’s story on the same subject. He strung the pearls of this about King Mahmud, how among the spoils of his Indian campaign there was a Hindu boy, whom he adopted as a son. He educated and provided royally for the boy and later made him vice-regent, seated on a gold throne beside himself. One day he found the young man weeping. “Why are you crying? You’re the companion of an emperor! The entire nation is ranged out before you like stars that you can command!”

The young man replied, “I am remembering my mother and my father, and how they scared me as a child with threats of you! ‘Uh-oh he’s headed for King Mahmud’s court! Nothing could be more hellish!’ Where are they now when they should see me sitting here?”

This incident is about your fear of changing. You are the Hindu boy. Mahmud, which means, Praise to the End, is the spirit’s poverty, or emptiness. The mother and father are your attachment to beliefs and bloodties and desires and comforting habits. Don’t listen to them! They seem to protect, but they imprison. They are your worst enemies.
They make you afraid of living in emptiness.

Some day you’ll weep tears of delight in the court, remembering your mistaken parents! Know that you body nurtures the spirit, helps it grow, and then gives it wrong advice. The body becomes, eventually, like a vest of chainmail in peaceful years, too hot in summer and too cold in winter. But the body’s desires, in another way, are like an unpredictable associate, whom you must be patient with. And that companion is helpful, because patience expands your capacity to love and feel peace.

The patience of a rose close to a thorn keeps it fragrant. It’s patience that gives milk to the male camel still nursing in its third year, and patience is what the prophets show to us. The beauty of careful sewing on a shirt
is the patience it contains. Friendship and loyalty have patience as the strength of their connections. Feeling lonely and ignoble indicates that you haven’t been patient. Be with those who mix with God as honey blends with milk, and say,

“Anything that comes and goes,
rises and sets,
is not what I love.”

Live in the one who created the prophets, else you’ll be like a caravan fire left to flare itself out alone beside the road.

I believe Rumi’s popularity is because he speaks on love and it seems as though virtually everyone not only loves a love song but a love poem. So if there is a love quote to love of Rumi’s let it be this one.

From The Food Sack
No one really loves, loves existence.”

Solitude & George Ezra

Society lacks many things. Solitude and respectable mainstream music is one of them. On April 24th at Terminal 5 New York, New York George Ezra proved he was the exception.

Mainstream music is usually generic, unimaginative and unoriginal. But some artists such as George Ezra aren’t so bad.

More popular in Europe than in the states he creates music that maybe isn’t the most complex and innovative but simple and happy. No auto tune. Self-written. He is a young well-traveled guy that gives hope to that fact that maybe chivalry isn’t dead.

Creator of his own music which is more than what the most famous of musicians out there can say he’s able to craft songs that are light but have a little more lyrical depth unlike some of his peers.

Watching his interviews and hearing what he had to say live my personal opinion is that his maturity and care free attitude has to do with he is well travelled. Traveling has positive effects but he has done a lot of it by himself. And there is a quiet beauty about that.

There is always this negative aspect that gets associated with being alone. As if it’s some depravity but really it’s our inability to be comfortable in our loneliness that’s desolate. Constantly having to be in the presence of other people instead of just being able to experience something on our own.

So I made the choice to attend the concert on my own and standing there solo observing the amount of people standing there mid conversation with friends eyes on their phone I fell in love with my solitude that much more.

I realized the true freedom exists only when we can be satisfied with loneliness. So we as might as well embrace it. Not be scared of it because the more we cling to each other we over analyze, gossip and compare eventually resenting, blaming outward circumstances on one another and spiral ourselves into a depression that we heal with more scrutiny, malice and spite.

We think others need to change or the world needs to change. When we think about changing the world we often think on a grander scale. Changing our government’s policies. Joining a nonprofit. Charities. But maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe it starts with going to a concert alone. Maybe instead of dinner with friends a lone trip to a museum. Instead of another date just sitting at home. Maybe we need more moments in solitary.

Maybe it starts with supporting people like George Ezra who are genuinely happy and transmit that happiness through their art. Spawning joy and pleasure giving hope that good does still exist we’re just looking for it in the wrong places.

Finding Peace in Costa Rica

Twenty five was a transformative age. Seeking a semi inexpensive spiritually cleansing trip a friend and I booked a trip to Costa Rica. There was something raw about the Spanish speaking utopia laced with trails beaches, jungles, and volcanoes, and upon arrival Mother Nature did not disappoint.

When we arrived a friend and I met with our traveling group and ventured out towards the pacific coast. Along the way was a roadside fruit stall offering exotic fruits. Nearby, Caiman crocodiles lounged in the riverbanks where baby caimans can be seized by herons and other birds of prey.

Then, Playa Hermosa a black sand beach that is the product of lava deposits from the volcanoes that divide the country’s pacific and Caribbean slopes. Surrounded by the fragile ecosystem the lackluster sand still couldn’t dim the vibrancy that surrounded it. Dinner was served then back on the bus it was towards a hammock endowed villa where a three fingered sloth rotated its neck 360 degrees comfortably in a tree nearby. The day was done and lying in bed the immense sense of life was dominant.

The morning came. Beans, rice, and fried eggs awaited consumption. Then the hike through Manual Antonio National Park. Amidst the 300 species of birds, the most malicious attraction were the white faced capuchin monkeys. Agile animals, they spend their day searching for food from tree to tree. They eat everything from buds, fruits and nuts to birds’ eggs, insects and small vertebrae. It is the most intelligent of new world monkeys using twigs to hunt for insects and stones to crack open crab shells. It also rubs itself with crushed millipedes to repel mosquitos.

Once sightseeing was complete we made our way to the city center. Scurrying down and around the trees were squirrel monkeys, who were more friendly than capuchin monkeys and are declining in population due to deforestation. Across the street, Playa Espadilla where flamboyant alcoholic beverages were served with psychotria poepigiana or the “hot lips” forest flower that attracts butterflies that are just as vibrant. In the water, a separate kingdom of animal life.

The next day the adventurer inside zip-lined through silk cotton trees before the Costa Rican rain came down creating the ultimate tranquil rainforest experience.

On the last day I got on a bus filled with Tico men, women, and children that made its way through rainbow colored houses towards a small aerial yoga studio with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean on one side and an eventful small street on the other.

Limbs flowed through the soft hammock held by carabineers, support chains and webbing straps. Twisting poses wrung out venous blood from internal organs allowing more oxygenated blood to stream through. Blood flow increased from the legs, to pelvis to heart. The intestine relaxed. Serotonin levels increased. Monoamine oxidase decreased. Asana complete pranayama followed. Senses withdrew, grey matter augmented, the fifth brain wave gamma was reached through meditating while levitated. Cognizance lost motion. Time stopped. Stillness and serenity ruled. Slowly lifting up my eyes opened to the sunset that was being admired by new friends parasailing on the other end of town and by the hundreds of other different species.

Feeling the magnitude of how interconnected everything was I noticed that even in the dead silence the sound of the world is still so loud. It was here that I realized peace isn’t quiet. It roars.

-Tatiana Ristev

A Well-Traveled Woman

“I love traveling” is such a misused statement. I notice that often what people really mean is they like a place with a beach or they want to visit typical well known vacation spots – like the Caribbean. Or they don’t want to go anywhere if it’s cold. Or they do some ten city trip in two weeks or less. Or they travel because they think it makes them sound philosophical in conversation. None of these is what traveling should be about. Traveling is a privilege. It is a chance to stunt ignorance and evolve.

When I say I want to travel the world I mean I want to go to Paris in the winter when there are little to no tourists so I can sense what the city is really like because the winter quiet is just as beautiful as the summer noise. I mean I want to go to all the gritty places in the world like Venezuela despite the fact that they do their local food shopping in prisons and the children of the Piaroa tribe roast goliath spiders like marshmallows until the air escapes from their knees because you can’t be a picky eater in the jungle. I mean I want to swim with jelly fish that don’t sting in the lakes of Palau. I want to climb the mountains of Machu Picchu. As a matter of fact if there is a mountain nearby I want to be on top of it. I want to watch the burnt orange sunset while camping in Morocco. I want to go through the Wisteria Tunnel in Japan, the Tunnel of Love in the Ukraine, Halong Bay and Pongua falls in Vietnam. Then maybe set my feet on the cliffs of Ireland. I want to visit Norway, Namibia, Montenegro, Cambodia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Jordan, Madagascar, the stone forest in China and Lake Retba in Senegal.

Before I continue let me explain why these places interest me. It is because I firmly believe that if you travel well – the right way- it is the best form of self- education. That visiting Egypt will teach me about the history of the world. And India. I want to get lost in your vivid southern temples, feel alive during your dazzling elephant festivals, and weave on a traditional loom. When I travel I want to meet happiness and harmony. Therefore take me to Tibet where I can meet a nation in exile whose leader taught them that retaliation by violence is weaker than retaliation by peace. Take me to Indonesia. Take me to Croatia. Take me to the Dead Sea. Take me anywhere because I have the curiosity to experience the world, not travel it.

-Tatiana Ristev