Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Don’t Let the Yogaslackers Kill You - by Gillian Pierce

November 17th, 2011

After spending the last 4 days filming a documentary on Yoga and Intention with the Yogaslackers in New York City, I am left with the image of standing on the subway platform and the massive whoosh of air when a train rolls through. Now sitting alone in my brother’s small Manhattan apartment, minutes after they left, the only word that describes the experience is “whirlwind”. Four of the Slackers are now in a car (with no backseat) traveling to Montreal to teach part of their Acro Yoga tour. And as a tribute to their undying energy I have decided that instead of collapsing, as I so desperately desire, or calling my boyfriend as I also desperately desire, I am going to follow their lead to go further than I think I can, and go deeper into my exhaustion by sitting down to write.

Other than my friendship with the slackers (born at a yoga journal conference in 2008 where I was taken by their energy and presence), I signed on for this project for several reasons. Mostly out of a desire to gain filming experience, but also from a personal interest in the project because of my own yoga exploration, which has taken many forms over the last 15 years. 
Interview with Sri Dharma Mittra
The streets of NYC

I have studied with renowned teachers, but I am not consistent with one style of yoga and often feel guilty when I sway from a traditional practice. As for the filming, I completed a two-week documentary video workshop this fall and was eager to put those brand new skills to use. The extent of my planning with the Slackers was an email confirming that I did in fact buy a plane ticket (self-funded) and a basic schedule of some of the yoga classes. This loose outline, and little knowledge of the scope of the project, led me to a fantasy of strolling the city, attending a few yoga classes, and filming a bit as we go. What I didn’t picture was the exhaustion of an absolute physical and mental marathon that felt like their version of a NYC yoga adventure race, with 3-4 yoga classes a day spread across the city, with little to no time allotted for eating, drinking, or rest of any sort.

deep in practice
Oh, and did I mention the elevator ban? At first, I myself scoffed at the elevator rule, wondering what difference it could possibly make, and accepted a personal “hall-pass” from the rule based on my heavy camera equipment. But as I write this, I honestly feel regret over not having joined them on the stairs. As I watched this new Slacker rule unfold, I witnessed the absurdity of our mainstream culture that Jason pointed out. The standard accepted practice is to drive our car to the gym to exercise on stationary machines- including STAIRMASTERS, yet given multiple opportunities throughout the day to move our bodies, we choose not to. There would be little need for gyms (and a much lower obesity rate) if people simply used the stairs. And to make matters even more absurd, some of the doormen tried to enforce access solely to the elevators, and even denied the use of stairs until the issue of fires was mentioned. Even more than this basic absurdity, the main reason I wish I had joined the stair movement, is it perfectly illustrates the essence of the Yogaslackers. They are constantly looking for a deeper way in. Through their acro practice, slacklining, and adventure racing, they are always seeking a more authentic and raw experience and ways to simply allow the pain to move through them. They didn’t flinch when they found out one studio was on the 17th floor.
deep in play
After four days with the Slackers, I am only slowly beginning to understand that all of their actions are intentional ways for them to live their philosophy- to continue to explore their own limits and a vow to never get too comfortable, rather than some kind of image for the outside world. They explained that in adventure racing it is easy to look for a way out and question the point of their discomfort. So instead, in everyday life, they choose to see the only constant as change and to embrace suffering, and more so have fun with it. They live their lives in continuous practice.

In my “normal” life I typically get 8 hours of sleep. I came to NYC slightly sleep deprived already, and have been running on about 5 hours a night since I arrived. By day 3 one of the Slackers said, and I quote, “Don’t let the Yogaslackers kill you”. She went on to explain how they have burnt out several camera people and how hard it is to keep up with them. A quick recap of the week: Monday- Dharma Mittra master class and Jivamukti Tuesday-Ashtanga Mysore in the am, a 2 hour Level 4 master Iyengar class and Breakti (Break dance and Yoga) Wednesday- Fight Club Yoga, Anti Gravity Yoga, Naked Yoga, Budokon, Thursday- Yoga Pole, Abhyasa (Pranayama), Anusara.

So on day four, now that the filming project is actually finished, I am finally just beginning to acclimate to this idea of fun in suffering that the Slackers have seemed to introduce. Last night we were all exhausted and hungry at the end of a long day, when rushing to our next class the Slackers decided to perform Acro moves in Times Square in the rain, delaying our search for a quick dinner. After the impromptu performance, I found myself laughing as I was now soaking wet and cold dodging a sea of people and umbrellas in the driving rainstorm. I realized that the Yogaslackers left me with this sense that the yoga really does occur off the mat, as we make choices everyday to respond and react to things, and the more we label things as “uncomfortable” the more we succumb to that idea.

Not only did the Yogaslackers NOT kill me, but if they asked me again I would happily: take my clothes off in front of a bunch of strangers, climb the stairs to the 17th floor, get too little sleep, lug a big camera bag around in the rain, share a tiny apartment, and physically exhaust myself with them in New York City. 

Gillian Pierce lives, writes, films, photographs, plays, and practices in Boulder, Colorado.  

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