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YD Goes to Yoga School Week 14: Karma Awakening, Spirituality and Finding Purpose in Cheesus

in YD Goes to Yoga School

Oh, I KNOW! It’s been a while. How’ve you been? To catch you up on all the goings on of teacher training these past couple of weeks, I just have one question for you, are you ready to get spiritual? Follow me down the rabbit hole…

This training has been a roller coaster ride – kinda like those old fashioned rickety wood types that screech like a banshee when you whip around a bend – and it’s not only because 18 of us spend somewhere between 14-16 hours a week shoulder to shoulder in yog-edification for close to 3 months now, but also because, well, in the midst of all that, life happens!

For example, over the past few weeks I’ve had major transitions in employment, found out all my roommates are leaving and I need to pack up or find new housemates and fast, and managed to summon the courage and energy to attend my 10 year high school reunion in true Jersey Shore fashion (kinda). You can imagine there have been a lot of ‘dear lord!’s and ‘good grief!’s tossed around the ether (and it’s vata season).

So considering the circumstances, the latest hoopla over yoga cramping Christianity with spirituality, and the cast of ‘Glee’ pondering religion, praying to a grilled Cheesus, it’s only appropriate that we had an almighty spiritual awakening workshop with one Suzanne Sterling, who is basically a devotional yogi rock star. Do you drink the kirtan?

“Live Out Loud” her website says. And she does. Unfortunately, I missed the “Finding Your Voice” day with yogini songstress Suzanne et al, as I was off finding my voice that said, on repeat, “You look great! What have you been up to?” to fellow decade ago classmates. But, hey I understand sound is powerful. Heck, do I need to get into how much certain sounds move me? Like the chakra-shaking clap of thunder? The shaktifying forces of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” amplified by the right company and a nice glass of red?…oh and yes, the clarifying resonance of Om. (in truth, I’m really looking forward to making up this day in the next session).

Anyway, our second day with Ms. Sterling was all about taking that voice and giving it purpose: Karma Yoga – what was our service?

Conscious Service. Sacred Activism. We were asked to offer words to define what this meant to us, and we came up with wonderful descriptives like compassion, respect, action, generosity, collaboration and transformation. But, Suzanne, not one for “drive-by spirituality”, had us all dig down deeper to uncover our “wounds” which would in turn help us discover our true path of service. Cripers. In other words, we spent several hours scooping up the muck and flinging it at the walls of our emotional prisons! (figuratively) The point is, the process of understanding your own scars before being able to help others is an important one, because more often than not you’ll be drawn to trying to heal those with similar, familiar wounds.  It’s sort of like how the heart is designed to pump blood to itself before pumping to the rest of the body (true story) or the old oxygen mask scenario: secure your own before assisting others.

Oh yeah, we definitely had our kumbayah moment, and it was a little like Spirituality Comes Alive with special guests Tears for Fears playing “Shout” as the encore with a harmonium and tabla drum. (we didn’t actually have live music). The Yogi (peaceful) Battle Cry! Spirituality on the march!

But what IS spirituality anyway?  Is it love, devotion, devout religion? Finding your true self, chanting rounds of “Om Namah Shivayah” for hours, getting lost in “Stairway to Heaven” only to find yourself again? Praying to a George Foreman grilled son of God? And why does it freak people out, or get confused with weakness, cultishness or too wrapped up in the G word?

Teaching yoga these days can run the gambit from kundalooni kooky to the “No Om Zone”, but taking that time to tend to yourself so you can return to the world a shinier, happier person whether it’s just amongst your pals or being shared with at-risk populations in third world countries, is awesome stuff, and it can get pretty goddamn spiritual. And that doesn’t necessarily mean religious, or replacing religion, Dr. Mohler, dear sir. Though I gotta say, I’d take sun salutes to Poison’s “Something to Believe In” over religious bigotry any day!

Here’s an exercise from Suzanne Sterling that will help you find your Purpose Statement:

  1. List 5-6 qualities your friends would say about you
  2. List 4-5 ways o share those qualities with others
  3. Write down your vision of an ideal world
  4. Now combine it together to get something like… I’m going to use my creative, joyful self to teach yoga and cook for friends in a world where there is no hunger.

PS. Suzanne is co-founder of Off the Mat Into the World with fellow yogi star Seane Corn.


YD yoga school updates should come pretty regularly on Sundays, at the wrap of each week. Disclosure: Training is with YogaWorks, NYC (I am not being paid to say that, Paula Lynch rocks).

Thanks to everyone who’s donated any amount. I could still really use the support. If you appreciate YD please consider a donation. Thank you!


6 comments… add one
  • I find Karma Yoga to be one of the most interesting & outwardly useful elements of the overall study of yoga … yet so many non-yogis know about it!

  • Enjoyed this, YogaDork, and look forward to reading about your further Yoga School adventures.

    Bob W.

  • Wow, with all you have been through on the roller coaster ride – I’m amazed you had time to write such a smart, music-inspired blog about your YTT experience. I’m glad you did though, because I am really digging hearing about your spiritual journey.

    Through my yoga practice and YTT I am working on being a shinier, happier person (insert R.E.M. song) and getting down with my spiritual self and it is awesome!

    Hope you find a great new place to live!

  • Elizabeth

    Agree with your experience of Suzanne’s workshop. I really liked the other two days we spent with her (out here in yoga teacher grad school west) much better; the “mission statement” I came up with sounded very phoney-baloney. It’s interesting, because my main experience with her has been via Reclaiming, not yoga, and I in fact had no idea she was a yoga teacher. (Right, who knew?) I did like the practice exercises in the student-teacher relationship session though.

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