Sunday, August 29, 2010
So You Think You are not Changing the World?
My Journey Into Yoga
Part 1: The Beginning
It was 1986. I was an exercise-obsessed 16-year old working at the front desk of a New York City fitness studio in exchange for unlimited classes. My mother and I used to go to classes together in an over keen attempt to stay thin, fit, and healthy.
On the day they added a yoga class to the schedule, my mom took notice right away, and asked me if I wanted to go with her to see what yoga was all about. At the time we both knew yoga to be totally far-out, and WAY fringe, but I was open to anything and agreed to try.
The teacher’s name was Oonaja Malagon, and she was not at all like the other fitness teachers at the studio. To me, she was super cosmic, mystical looking, and way mellow. I was intrigued. Back then in the 80’s, most yoga was all “flow n’ glo,” meaning you would be instructed to come into something like warrior 1 pose, hold it (flow), and then immediately drop into child’s pose (glow) to rest from the “effort”.
At the end of the practice, Oonaja lead us through a guided body scan for savasana. I was lying next to my mom on a towel (this was before sticky mats!) and drifting off to the soothing sound of her voice, as she meticulously encouraged us to relax each part of the body. “Relax your jaw…relax your neck….relax your shoulders…relax your solar plexus, relax your abdomen….”
“Relax your genitals…”
I woke up.
And more, “Relax your anus…”
Oh my God.
I opened my eyes and turned to look at my mom. I mean I was 16, so in my head I was doing the Beavis and Butthead thing: “She said anus, heh heh heh…”. And my mom was holding back laughter. We got such a kick out of it after class, (and to this day actually) having never heard anything like that in our fitness classes before!
Needless to say, we loved Oonaja, and loved yoga, and I kept going to Oonaja’s classes, eating up all the asanas, the self-inquiry, and mostly the feeling of engaging in a connection to something bigger than myself, which was helping me make sense of who I was in the world.
One day Oonaja disappeared and I have never seen her since. Thanks to social media and google, however I just friended her on Facebook and plan to message her with some long overdue appreciation.
It’s funny how many of us think we do not make a difference in the world with the small things we do each day…or that the seemingly fleeting interactions we experience have much merit. Yet, there is no question that both my mother, who urged me to join her that day, and Oonaja, who was my very first yoga teacher, helped to set me on a life long path, a path that as a teacher myself, is now planting seeds in others lives, for generations to come.
No matter what you do, your very existence is changing the world.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story…
I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of your own "yoga firsts" so please leave a comment below.
About Amy Ippoliti
An author, teacher, leader, do-gooder, and entrepreneur, Amy enjoys bridging the gap between ancient yoga wisdom and our modern lives. She has been studying yoga since 1986, and became one of the first certified Anusara Yoga teachers in 2000 after being to drawn to Anusara yoga for the artistic, heart and community centered teachings. Amy apprenticed closely for many years with Anusara founder John Friend on his national tours, and currently chairs the Anusara Yoga Curriculum Committee. Amy is widely recognized for her down-to-earth teaching approach, lucid instruction, and for assisting her students in achieving personal breakthroughs on and off the mat.
This story is also posted at Elephant Journal.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
If you have been following me on facebook and twitter, you know that I lah-ove to talk about, consume, and get people pumped about eating superfoods. There are so many reasons to get into them.
She was only 47.
Deb passed away after a 6 year fight with cancer. When Deb was in hospice it occurred to me, that something was very much not right about this fate. She was a yogini, successful in her career, ate organic, and was an accomplished and fit outdoors woman. It occurred to me that Deb's story was not unique.
You always hear that stress is the #1 killer. And as a yoga teaching professional, it is my job to help people learn how to be happy. We' have been on the happiness train for over a decade getting happy, and we have figured out how to eat organic and stay fit. So I wondered why this was still happening and seemingly increasing in frequency? Air pollution and radiation exposure, yeah, I could see that.
However, what came to me was that supplementation was lacking. And so I pursued an informal education on all supplements. I discovered that every single nutritional organization in the world now recommends supplementation for a healthy diet, even one that is all organic, free-range, vegetarian or even raw.
What I Discovered
Deb's passing led me to scour the world, talking with the best naturopaths and nutrition experts, and I came upon this the buzz word, "superfood". Wikipedia says: "Superfood is a term sometimes used to describe food with high phytonutrient content that may confer health benefits as a result. For example, blueberries are often considered a superfood (or superfruit) because they contain significant amounts of antioxidants, anthocyanins, vitamin C, manganese, and dietary fiber.
Eaten consistently, superfoods will help you meet the recommendations of the U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guideline, supplying you with nutrients and minerals that are typically missing from American diets.
It is no surprise that the indigenous people who live in the places where superfoods grow have zero cases of degenerative diseases like cancer, heart disease or diabetes. Statistically, they perish from snake bites or machete wounds which occur from the outside in. Meanwhile here in the States and in Europe, our people (and our pets!) are dying from the inside out.
If you ask me, if given the opportunity, I'd rather eat out of the rainforest or other pristine places and join those who are thriving from bio-diverse wild foods, vs. mono crop foods grown in overly tilled soils. Of course growing your own food is a great idea too, however as a supplement, you will benefit immensely from superfoods.
What's in it for YOU?
How about increasing your energy levels, brightening your eyes, getting that "glow", keeping you regular, increasing your recovery time from exercise and sports, and giving you the antioxidants you need to fight free radicals all day long?
Back in 2007, I started eating Superfoods in mass quantity and I have to say, I FEEL much more uplifted in my moods, more inspired, and I notice a difference in the luster of my skin, hair, nails, and energy. People worry about the price of such foods, as they are premium quality. And they way I see it, I'd rather pay a small amount over time for these precious foods now, then inflated hospital and doctor's bills later!
How You Can Get in on the Buzz
After class, I am often bombarded with questions from students wanting recommendations on juicers, products to help their digestion, and superfoods they can throw in their smoothies. I am always so delighted that people want to get educated, want to know more, and mostly that they want to have radical health, regularity, and radiant beauty for themselves and their families.
So, to make it easier, to get this info out there, we have now created a special page on my website dedicated to superfoods and juicing where you can find my juicing and smoothie recipe ideas, the specific superfoods I recommend, juicers, and more. Please enjoy this page and spread the word! http://www.wildspirityoga.com/superfoods.html
May you thrive, not just survive, and change the world while you are doing it!
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
I have never published the letter I wrote to the NYC community the day I decided to cancel the upcoming and long awaited Teacher Training and replace it with this new funny thing called "the Immersion". You see, our community was STOKED to start teacher training, and I had it on the calendar. But now I was "negging" on them and offering them this thing they had never heard of, and they wanted a certificate! So this was a BIG deal.
I offer this letter to you now, as it was originally written, after all these years as an offering of history, and to relish and reflect on where our kula (community of the heart) stands today from having shifted a paradigm that was firmly rooted, but now has been reborn!
Top row, left to right: Me, Sara Thorson, Tracy Toon, Christy Nones, Chloe Gottlieb, Lizanne Hinkle, Lynn Hazan, Nancy Mercado.
October 25, 2002
I am writing this letter as an expression of some recent contemplations and insights I've had about the future of Anusara Yoga in our community and the way in which we think about learning this yoga, and ultimately teaching this yoga. I realize that this letter may disappoint some of you and for some it might be sensational news. However after thinking seriously about what is possible for myself as a teacher, and what is best for the long term education of our community, I have made some significant shifts in what VIRAYOGA will be offering for teacher training.
In the last few weeks before the weekend workshop "All About Anusara", in late October, I sat with myself and mulled over a growing feeling I was having, consulted with friends, past trainees and both John Friend and Douglas Brooks. With guidance and full support from John and Douglas, I came to the very pivotal decision that a paradigm shift is necessary in how we all as a yoga community approach teacher training. Based on the urgency of what my heart was feeling, in 48 hours we came up with an entirely new program to offer. Thanks to Lynn Hazan's programming expertise and Elena Brower's support, the Immersion came into being. At the weekend workshop, as some of you know, I made the announcement. This letter is a summation of what I told the group.
The great news is that I believe this change will very positively affect the future of learning at VIRAYOGA in the sweetest of ways. I believe that this will benefit each one of the rapidly growing number of yogis who have shown such tremendous interest in learning Anusara yoga and becoming teachers.
In past trainings I've offered, the emphasis was on a beginning a middle and an end. When the end had come, there was an idea that now the graduates would teach Anusara style yoga and would receive a certificate to do so. Most of the participants would inevitably realize that they had in fact just completed an immersion into yoga and that the journey of yoga had just begun! Others, who had simply wanted to take their practices deeper, found themselves in a teacher training, learning to teach others, when in fact they really just wanted to learn more about yoga.
What has become clear to me now is that somewhere along the line, the process of cultivating a practice of yoga and teaching it has gotten reversed. Rather than immersing ourselves first more deeply in Anusara, in the yoga, in the process of really imbibing these teachings, and then going toward a teacher training, we have been starting from the teacher training! Then we try to teach from a place of knowledge, but with out all the wisdom and experience behind it!
This is not to say that the past trainings I have offered were of no use, far from it! It is simply to ask ourselves, what is it that we really want?
My proposal is that we start from the most basic and sweet desire to first immerse ourselves into this yoga, a yoga that because of its sophistication takes time to discover and absorb. Even after 5 years of literally parking myself next to John Friend, I will always be in a state of amazement at how much I don't know. I have learned from Douglas that there is such a beauty in not knowing, in ignorance, because it means that I am OPEN. In contrast, arrogance is where there is a fear and insecurity in not knowing. When we admit that "we don't know", the possibility of what we are capable of is truly endless and the opportunity for huge transformation presents itself.
So, rather than doing a teacher training in a yoga that is still in reality quite new, I am asking that you each take this opportunity to step into the process of commitment and practice and really deepen the yoga before thinking of teaching it. To immerse yourself in the experience of this yoga means being seen and seeing, it means allowing yourself and the community to embrace your gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses and for you to step into these strengths and weaknesses and hone your skills. With this shift in thinking, I realize that it would be a disservice to accept any one of you into a TT program with out first having spent the time building a lasting rapport. I am committed to being around to get to know you and learn about who you are and for you to get to know me. This, I believe is the way to truly create professional yoga teachers and meaningful relationships that will withstand the dance of life's many offerings.
One of the things to let go of when we make this paradigm shift is the idea that getting a certificate is what's really important. I invite you to see teacher training, not as a credential that you rack up, but truly as a practice. As Douglas said, "a practice is not just an activity, it's an expression of who you are". When the time comes for you to take the seat of being a teacher, you will be hired on the basis of what you know and who you are, not what you have on the wall, as he says. In my years of teaching yoga I have actually never been asked to present my certificate to anyone who has hired me, in fact I couldn't even tell you where my certificates are right now because I never use them! I have always been hired based on recommendations from teachers, students or friends, even in the most corporate of gyms!
What we as a staff at VIRAYOGA have decided is best, is for us to offer a totally new opportunity for those of you who have so enthusiastically come forward wanting teacher training in the last year. I realize that this is a shift in what was on our website and emails and that you may very well be disappointed, but I know in my heart that this is what will ultimately bring the most integrity and truth into our community.
Having immersed yourself in Anusara in this way, and with the knowledge that the process will continue on and on, when the time is right, a teacher training will be a culmination of your efforts and study, not the beginning of the journey! Doing it any other way, would be like walking down the aisle with someone you think you love. Or looking at real estate - on paper the house looks great, but it's the feeling you get when you are inside the house and have examined it that makes or breaks the decision.
Immerse yourself in the exploration of this yoga, before you attempt to teach it. What you have on paper (the hours you've acquired, your past trainings, your education) is not what ultimately matters to me. It is the relationship that I have with you, it is the chance for me to see you do a bunch of yoga and the wisdom of time together. The Anusara Immersion will give us all that opportunity to establish a new depth of commitment to each other, and ourselves where ever you are at in your practice.
We are raising the standards, because we believe that integrity and dedicated learning is crucial. The Immersion is a pre-requisite, and simply another way of preparing for teacher training down the road. Other ways to dive deeper, include coming on retreat, making the time to study with Douglas and John, and attending other Anusara teacher's classes here in the NYC area.
We hope that you will join us in this new journey, because your enthusiasm and love is contagious. I feel so privileged to be in your company, it's astounding.
I HIGHLY encourage each of you to call me personally or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts, feelings, disappointments, ecstatic outbursts or suggestions.
Thank you for your continued commitment and for literally going with the flow (the meaning of the word, "Anusara"), as I myself grow and step into this new change.
Saprema (with divine love),
To learn more about the Anusara Immersion with me, and the amazing gift of $200 off I am offering until midnight tonight (August 4th!) visit http://www.wildspirityoga.com/Immersion_2010_Amy_Ippoliti.html
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I feel blessed every day to have had the opportunity to do my teacher training with John in a room full of only 50 people, to have practiced one-on-one in Texas with him, and to have spent weeks on the road practicing with just a few of us. I remember one week when I did not sign up early enough for the advanced Intensive in AZ, I asked John if I could come and just be there in case someone did not show. Never wanting to shut anyone out, he said yes, AND that I could come practice during the break with him, Desiree and Sianna. Needless to say I bought the plane ticket.
We shared our first Mahashivatri together that week, and I met Darren Rhodes and Christina Sell for the first time. One of the best moments was the invocation chant where we all put on sunglasses while our eyes were closed, so when John ended the chant he looked up from his namaste, shocked to see us all in shades.
During the summers in 2000-2001, I had moved from New York City with my boyfriend to Stone Ridge, NY which meant we could get to John at Gurumayi's ashram in only 45 minutes. I would go 2-3 times a week so I could take his public 90-minute classes and also practice with him for 2 hours during the day. During the day we'd do things like Abisheka (ritual bathing) of the Hanuman murti, hang out in the Amrit Cafe eating Dosas and talking with Douglas Brooks, have darshan with Gurumayi, meditate and 'get stoned' from the shakti in Baba's temple, and then do epic practices at Ashirwad, the hatha yoga complex that John helped design. Apart from Ashirwad, we were forbidden to wear tank tops which would expose our shoulders, or cross the road with out using the underpass. My boyfriend and I would have these silly fantasies of streaking across the road with nothing on but a leopard-striped fur thong, just for fun. Naughty!
At night I got to see John lead a normal public class that was less than 2 hours long, so I learned a lot about how to condense Anusara from "workshop mode", as I was accustomed, into a regular class. It was here that I met Jimmy and Ruthie Bernhaert, Noah Maze, Jayendra and others. Those were the days!
It is powerful to be with a community for this long. To grow and expand together, to learn from each other, to make mistakes and be forgiven, is truly like family, with out the blood connection. And yet, this feeling of family is ever present now whether one has been practicing Anusara for years or has just begun.
I like to think that the "spirit of Anusara" is always available to anyone, because of the foundation of love and Grace that was created during Anusara's early days. I believe that spirit is still generating and will last for many generations to come.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Yes, I just read the NYT and subsequent bloggage. Overall it is simply a excellent that John Friend and the school of Anusara were featured in such a prominent paper. Clearly Anusara is enough of a movement to merit that kind of attention. Having grown up with the NYT on the breakfast table daily, and having been interviewed myself for magazines and articles, I know how easily quotations can be taken out of a larger context. I won't get into all the things I want to say about some of the quotes just now...however, what stuck with me is how this article has stirred up the age-old, conversation about the "commercialization of yoga". (oooh! Hide, run away!)
Monday, July 5, 2010
For a whole month I have been enjoying being home in Colorado, getting caught up in my office, bonding heavily with my cat, Jaya, and hosting lavish raw foods dinner parties in my home. Not too shabby.
My practice and application of Yoga allows me to embrace the paradox of, on the one hand, living my life fully, enjoying nature, the garden, and keeping company with great beings, while at the same time feeling deeply the space of heart break. Millions of gallons of oil are still gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, my friends along the Gulf are in sorrow at losing their ocean habitat and lifestyle, not to mention the effects of climate change tangibly being felt around the
planet. With all this AND the world economy continuing to be in shambles, it can be easy to want to give up, blame, or become a total grump. Lucky for us, yoga philosophy has answers if we are willing to listen.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
My voyage began with an around-the-world ticket on September 25th from Denver with touchdowns in Washington DC, Rome, Perugia, Florence, Geneva, Munich, Seoul, and Los Angeles, and finally back to a snow storm in Denver!
People sometimes glamorize world travel, yet like anything, travel is not always easy and comes with its ups and downs. Precicesly at the moment I would start to miss home or feel the wear and tear of the road, I'd log in to Facebook or open an email and there would be a message thanking me for traveling as much as I do, appreciation for sharing the teachings despite the hardships of travel, and general loving wishes. I must thank each of you who wrote, because these messages came at exactly the moments I needed to hear them, and they meant so much to me. Truly, thank you.
The tour kicked off with my 8th retreat to Umbria, and another outstanding week of decadent food, wine, and yoga.
After an exciting day in my old stomping grounds of Florence, Kelli and I had an adventure – an overnight train to Geneva! We were greeted in the morning by David Newbery who promptly fed us with fresh juiced fruits and veggies made by 16-yr old, up-and-coming raw foods educator, AJ.
As always it was a total pleasure working with the exceptional Swiss and French Kula in Geneva.
After a day of rest, home practice, catching up, and a hot bath, I left for Munich and on to Seoul for two weeks of the Part 2 Immersion!
Since 2007 I have been helping to build Anusara yoga in Korea with Tina Park at Jai Center in Seoul. This was my 5th trip to Korea and this year we started a 3 part Immersion which has been rocking the yoga community.
Our one bi-lingual student, Henna Lew, summed up the Immersion with these words: "It's been truly magical for the past two weeks and has brought so much courage and happiness to a level that some of us have not experienced in our entire life until today!"
It has been a total honor to teach so much this year in Korea, because like anything into which we put our love and energy, a great vibration is created. It is wonderful to feel such a deep bond with a group of women who speak completely different languages than I, and who live in radically different cultures. Because of their dedication and eagerness to learn, the student’s transformation from Part 1 to Part 2 has been astonishing. Check out these shakti-filled sisters!
When these two countries reunite, all of the Korean peninsula will have this gorgeous wildlife preserve to enjoy – a gift to come out of the separation.
What was most uplifting about being there was seeing the art work on the South Korean side which was full of hope, as well as real structures such as a Freedom Bridge and a fully functioning train station that was built complete with train tracks that extend across the DMZ toward North Korea. Even though there is technically no use for this station, it was built as a vote of confidence and as a gesture toward the reality of the need for transportation across once reunification occurs. “Fake it till you make it, build it and they will come”, I always say!
Ribbons of Hope
In this photo, are the ribbons we placed containing our written prayers for unification.
At this stage on the tour you can see below Elizabeth (who has been assisting me on all three of my Asian tour stops this year) and I having a tough time smiling, as we were still absorbing the heaviness of the reality going on at the border.
We were also joined by om time Immersion graduate, Bill Carver from Durango, CO who will be traveling in Asia until January and joining parts of the Korean Immersion.
On our tour, we were taken into “The Third Tunnel”, one of 4 tunnels the North Koreans started digging under the DMZ to eventually invade Seoul. It is said that they began excavating at the end of the war, but the South Korean army discovered the 4 tunnels throughout the 70’s to the 90’s before they could be used.
Along with a slew of young soldiers, we entered the South Korean tunnel that had been built by the army in order to access and then block the North Korean passageway. We then came upon the spot where the North Koreans had stopped digging before they got caught, an actual narrow tunnel that was designed to dispatch thousands of soldiers in an hour's time. Total erie alert!
Everyone had to put on these ridiculous helmets, which I was convinced were a gimmick, but when I heard all the tall people’s helmets hitting the top of the tunnel repeatedly, I realized they were a needed commodity. We are smiling in this picture because, despite the heaviness of the actuality, the young soldiers were so jovial inside the tunnel, we couldn’t help but smile. At one point I was questioning the light-hearted vibe jokingly, and Tina said, “Yeah, what’s with the party attitude in The Third Tunnel?” Well, this was their educational field trip from hard training – they were as much tourists as we were!
Overall, it was an unforgettable experience for me. The fact that such a separation exists, and that so many people are intentionally isolated from the global community (the North Koreans have no cell phones, internet, or cars!) is totally wild.
Whenever there is separation, there is a lack of relationship and therefore isolation and then delusion, and when there is a lack of relationship or isolation, there is NO YOGA.
On the ribbons we set out on the fence of the DMZ, we placed our prayers for unification. It has been too long to hold such a stance of separation and hope is very much REAL.
In our lifetime, may we be witnesses to the DMZ’s dissolution, may all the fascinating nature that has emerged be left standing as a symbol of rebirth for the entire planet, and may North Korean citizens be welcomed lovingly into the International community with peace and harmony. May it be so. May it be real.
The day after the immersion, I had one of the longest Mondays I've ever had - I left Seoul at 12:08pm on Monday and arrived in LA on Monday at 10:15am, "earlier" than I had left! In three short days, I managed to sleep off dangerously drowsy jet lag (thank you Tanya and Beate for driving me around the first day!), I saw 11 different friends I have not seen in years, got a much needed and ecstatic facial at Julique, had productive meetings, and got my toes wet in the Pacific. It was too short, so I will make sure to go back to LA soon, and stay much longer next time!
As I write this from the plane, I return to the first major blizzard back home in Colorado, the final stretch of my planetary circumnavigation!