Live Be Yoga ambassadors Lauren Cohen and Brandon Spratt are on a road trip across the country to sit down with master teachers, host free local classes, and so much more—all to illuminate the conversations pulsing through the yoga community today.
It was a true honor and privilege to kick off the LiveBeYoga tour in Boulder with two of the greatest living yoga teachers, Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor. There’s something unexplainable about what it felt like to spend an afternoon with two teachers I admire so deeply, but I’ll try; after all, they are two leaders who have held true to the roots of yoga and paved a path for so many students and teachers today. Together, they shared what it truly means to live yoga and distilled the essence of the practice into one key word: relationship.
As I walked into Richard and Mary’s light-filled home, I felt a surge of inspiration and ease. Yoga seemed to be infused in the intricate woodwork and architecture, in their collection of mystical artwork, in the surrounding foothills, and, most importantly, in their very being. Soft-spoken, yet deliberate and direct, Richard and Mary got right to the heart of the matter—just by being who they are and how they are.
Ironically enough, this became the root of our conversation: how to experience yoga as a way of being in and with the world and how to embody the practice to relate more intentionally to ourselves and others.
“Through yoga, things that are apparently separate start to interface. On the mat we are interfacing with various sensations, and off the mat it’s with other people at the coffee shop,” Richard said. “The most powerful thing is your relationship with other beings, rather than your ability to hold your breath or to focus your mind.” After all, if you can’t relate to your neighbor, what good will it do to get your leg above your head?
“The most powerful thing is your relationship with other beings, rather than your ability to hold your breath or to focus your mind.” —Richard Freeman
This way of viewing yoga is particularly important in this day and age, where instant gratification, certifications, and external validation are seemingly top of mind, especially with social media and more and more yogis enrolling in teacher trainings, leading retreats, and opening studios.
“It takes a few years—if not a few decades—to notice how everything we’ve practiced and cultivated on the mat begins to automatically spill out into how we relate to and see others in the world,” Mary said. This integration process takes time, discipline, and diligence and requires one key quality: ongoing studentship.
When Richard and Mary opened their now-shuttered Boulder studio in 1988, yoga was not a career path like it is today. While on one level, it’s a wonderful thing that practice and profession can intersect, it has the potential to cause more harm than good. What happens when business and marketing motivation overrides the purity of intention? According to Richard and Mary, when a desire to create a successful brand becomes more important than the teachings and the practice itself, we’ve lost sight of the true essence of yoga.
As a full-time yoga teacher, I’ve been thinking a ton about what it REALLY means for my practice to intersect with all aspects of my life. I am constantly checking in with myself and my intention for teaching, because, in the midst of the hustle, it can at times get skewed. Especially now being on the road, away from my regular public class schedule and community, I am exploring other ways to share the practice, to live it, and to notice my reactions, preferences, and judgements in my day-to-day interactions. I continue to ask myself: Have I integrated my practice enough? What does this look like for me? Are my actions aligning with my values? Can I maintain the integrity of my intention while making a living? What supports me in taking my practice off the mat? What is my part in all of this?
Through our conversation, it became clear to me that what we were really talking about was how to refine and nurture personal practice so that we can be of service to others. In doing so, we must remain in constant inquiry and introspection. We must cultivate curiosity and compassion while remaining intentional and integral; we must look at ourselves with an internal magnifying glass and still remain in wonder of what we may not have seen. As Richard says, we must “practice all day everyday and all night every night.”
Inspired by our conversation, here are five key points to consider as you cultivate your practice—off the mat:
- REMAIN CURIOUS: Ask questions, even when you think you know the answers.
- BE COMPASSIONATE: Practice kindness toward yourself so that the same gesture can be extended to others.
- STAY HUMBLE: Remain a student of yourself and of life; surround yourself with a sangha (community) and teacher that support your growth.
- BEGIN AGAIN: Pause long enough to catch yourself in moments of misalignment and, as Mary says, to “reignite enthusiasm for life.”
- REMEMBER: Return, again and again, to the original spark that drew you in; allow that spark to be the foundation from which you practice, share and live yoga.
As part of our journey on the road, we are asking each teacher we meet with what their single hope is for yoga practitioners today. Richard and Mary hope that you “discover what makes you truly happy, and from that sense of happiness, feel an embodied sense of connectedness to all other beings.”