I hope you enjoy our first book for our book club. This book is filled with insight, positivity and guidance. Which is why I recommend it.
I am honoured to have been able to ask the author, Sam Chase, a few questions as he is well-known in the yoga community and anyone who knows him will tell you how moving he is.
I hope this interview gives you just a hint of why I have chosen this book as our first for the book club. Sam truly embodies being a Yogi and not in an artificial way; in a ‘be true’ kind of way. Which I love.
1. I love how you describe your journey to yoga, not as being flexible and intentional, but kind of by chance. Did you ever think that your life would be dedicated to yoga as much as it has been?
Not at all. If you would have told me when I finished school that I would end up with a career in yoga, the first thing I would have done is said, "What's yoga?" Then the second thing I would have done is laugh in your face. I never imagined this is what I would be doing. But then again, I think underneath any career, whatever it looks like on the surface, are some essential things it taps into or draws out in you. And teaching yoga offers me a chance to explore really fundamental questions about the human experience, and to share that exploration with others. I think the traditional yogis were really interested in two basic questions: Who the hell am I? And what the f@#! is going on in this world? Everything else is more or less just ways of experimenting with those questions, and I'm happy I lucked into a career that lets me play with them every day.
2. Your book is a guide to the pursuit of happiness. Please expand briefly on why you think that the two coincide?
Ironically, I don't think yoga actually promises us happiness--at least not the way we often think of it. I think what yoga really promises is an ability to experience life as it really is, and to be able to be ok with that experience. There's definitely a kind of happiness to be had there, but it's not about feeling good all the time. It's about being able to look life in the face, stand on your own two feet, and do your job in the world.
3. There’s no doubt that right now is a trying time for the world. How do you suggest that Yogis stay happy while so much negativity is going?
I get questions like this a lot. One radio show asked me, "How can we stay happy no matter what's going on around us?" And I said, "I hope you can't." That would be absurd. If you lose someone you love, there should be sadness, there should be grief. I'd be worried for someone who wasn't able to feel those things. Because it suggests a profound kind of disconnect between a person and the world around them. And I think that's dangerous. I think you see that playing out all over the country, all over right now. Thanks to technology, we are more and more connected to people all over the world than ever before. But that's hard to handle, because you can't see that much of the world without seeing more and more how much suffering there is. And it hurts to look, at citizens being shot, and the bodies of kids washing up on the shore. And one of the things I think we tend to do when we can't handle being in the presence of suffering is we recoil. We retreat to what we know, what feels safe. We become tribal, in the sense that our circle of concern shrinks and shrinks, until we have situations like this, where people all over the country are hating each other because of where they come from, what they look like, who they voted for. I'm not saying that we should be all fuzzy and kumbaya about everything, not at all, but it seems obvious to me that when that's the world you live in, there's a kind of happiness you can't have. A kind of happiness none of us gets to have until we wake each other up. And I think that yoga and meditation can help us do that--learn to sit face to face with a world that is suffering and keep caring. We can learn to reach into suffering rather than recoil from it.
4. What advice do you give to new yoga teachers?
Say yes until you have to say no. I in my experience, a career in this field is built on relationships. And relationships can spring up in the strangest places. Every single teaching opportunity I have ever had has come from someone coming to a class of mine or working with me and referring me to someone else. Sometimes you do have to say no to a chance to teach, but if we wait for the perfect teaching opportunity before saying yes, we just end up waiting.
5. What advice would you give to yourself as a new yoga teacher?
Go slow. When I started out, I wanted to do everything. It was a bad idea. This is embarrassing, but I remember very early on, someone asked me to teach an Ashtanga class, and I said yes (see above) but I had no business teaching Ashtanga yoga. I'd practiced it for years, but my training was at Kripalu. The styles are nothing alike. But I thought I could use what I know and adapt on the fly, and it was just awful. Often we see teachers we admire and we want to just leap into that seat. Or sometimes we're embarrassed because we think we don't know enough. But I think we're always safest and strongest when we're teaching what we know, and what we practice. When we try to jump beyond what's truly ours, it's a dangerous game. That's what Krishna says to Arjuna in the Gita--looking for success in another's dharma is full of peril. The good news is yoga's been around for a long while. You've got at least one lifetime to work with it.
6. I absolutely love that you have included exercises in the book, I thoroughly enjoyed them. How did you come up with them?
Many of them are traditional practices of meditation, some were taught to me from my mentors, and some are actually the result of scientific research into happiness and well-being. I tried to include a blend because I think different people respond to different experiences.
7. Do you practice any of them yourself?
Every single one.
8. Living in a city like New York, how do you stay free, open and receptive?
New York is a city that loves to get people into habits and then exploit those habits. I've sometimes joked that if you can get a New Yorker to cross the street for a cup of coffee, you can figure out world peace. Even with all that variety, most people (myself included) walk the same routes every day to do the same things. So I think you're right--staying open in that environment can be tricky, and I don't have any easy answers. But one thing I did last year to help get me out of those ruts was to give myself an assignment: every day for 100 days, I had to find something interesting to take a photo of, and then write a haiku about it and publish it. That was a lot of fun because suddenly even when I was on the same streets I was looking at them differently and thinking of them differently. Even now I'll still snap photos and compose tiny poems for the city in my head.
9. What does your daily morning practice entail?
Right now, it's waking up with my kids, making breakfast, and taking my son to school. If I want to sit or get on the mat, I have to do it another time. My family has to come first then, and I had to make peace with that.
10. What would you tell someone who is interested in your book but unsure if they should read it?
Stay interested and stay unsure. I think some healthy skepticism is a really good thing. Nobody should believe something just because a bald, middle-aged white guy says it. Guys who look like me have been telling the world what to do for too long. So if I have something to say, or an idea or practice to share, I'm trying not to sell it too much. But that's the nice thing about a book--you can be unsure for as long as you want. The book will always be there.
11. What is your Instagram, FB and Twitter? We love following influential people as yourself.
I've got a Sam Chase Yoga page on facebook, but I don't do instagram and twitter. I don't have a thing about it, I'm just not cool like that.