Thursday, May 09, 2013

when ancient met modern

A group of yoga devotees came together yesterday afternoon to listen to Eddie Stern, Beryl Bender Birch and Elena Brower discuss how yoga fits into 21st-century life. We left with swag bags—essential oil samples, vegan energy powders, incense variety packs. When I left the studio, there was an ostentatious VitaCoco truck parked out front. This shouldn't have surprised me—people devoted enough to yoga to attend a lecture on a Wednesday afternoon are the target audience for all this stuff, and shalas can't run on fumes—but it did. Maybe it's because I'm naive, or maybe it's because I don't identify three respected teachers with material goods.

Eddie is my current teacher; I've taken a workshop with Beryl, and I just adore her. Elena is a celebriyogi, no doubt, mostly known in ashtanga circles for being one of John Friend's most prominent acolytes—until she became one of the most prominent teachers to resign her certification after Friend, the founder of anusara, was implicated in a sex and money mismanagement scandal. (I touched on some of this in a piece I wrote at the time for GOOD.)

So while I was more interested in a personal path sort of way to hear what Eddie and Beryl had to say (I know, I know, spoken like a true ashtangi), I was super curious to hear whether Elena would mention anything about her break with John Friend.

She did, and I ended up wanting to hug her.

"When I broke away from anusara a couple years ago, I was like a man without a country," she said, adding that she still has blasts of anger sometimes, and that her yoga practice in the past year has been "learning how to accept myself."She sat curled up, with one knee in front of her chest, while Beryl and Eddie's body language was more open, welcoming. They also drew a lot more on yoga scripture, philosophy and tradition in crafting their takes on yoga's place in contemporary society; Brower was speaking from a more personal place: I do this for me, to be the best version of myself each day, she seemed to say, as opposed to practicing the eight-limbed to reach enlightenment.

Eddie and Beryl have outlooks to aspire to, but I appreciate how real Elena was as she spoke. She said, of her students, "We end up together having an experience, training our minds and bodies to find space inside," continuing, "I'm having the same experience they're having. I have no authority, except for the things that I'm going through."

Elegantly put.

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