Interview: Yoga Practice at Zazen: On the Mat, in the World

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Tyler Krupp interviewed Sandy Lamerson, Yoga Teacher and Yoga Manager at Zazen.

Question: Why practice yoga at Zazen? 

Sandy: Yoga students in San Francisco may be overwhelmed, perhaps overjoyed, by the number of yoga studios in this city as well the number of yoga teachers and styles of yoga. For some new and seasoned students, it may be challenging to find a practice "home". What is important for every student, however, is finding a teacher they can trust: someone who inspires them and helps them grow -- not only in yoga poses, but as a person. 

I think Zazen is a unique yoga studio in San Francisco, in that we provide a warm, inviting "container" for students to explore yoga and explore themselves. Our teachers are trained in both traditional and modern yoga lineages including: Ashtanga, Iyengar, Hatha and Vinyasa Flow, Yin, Restorative, Gentle Yoga and Mindful Movement. Despite the range of yoga styles, all of our teachers work to uphold the principles of yoga and to cultivate the basic intentions of Zazen which are:

Presence - We are present and mindful in our work, practice and teaching

Gratitude - We are aware of the gift of life and look for ways to express gratitude

Care - Our work involves being with people who benefit from our care and attention. 

Mastery - We aspire to master our respective skill or discipline and offer its fullest expression

Zazen teachers recently met to discuss the overreaching intentions of Zazen and how to manifest the mission of Zazen in our yoga classes and everything that we do. Yoga students can expect our teachers to work to cultivate these basic intentions. 

At Zazen, yoga students can expect personal instruction, a meditative environment and teachers who are deeply interested in teaching yoga in its fullest sense. The atmosphere is supportive, non-competitive and community oriented with a focus on cultivating balance, health, wellbeing and growth.

Question: Can you say something about your personal experience teaching and practicing yoga and working at Zazen?

Sandy: I started teaching yoga at Zazen in the spring of 2013 at the old Hyde St. location. Zazen was the first place I started teaching public classes. Zazen has been a supportive place to grow and develop as a teacher. This support has allowed me to become more confident and pursue a path of yoga that feels like a trustworthy and noble path for a lifetime. What I am sharing in my classes now comes from my studies and training in Iyengar yoga. Some hallmarks of Iyengar's teachings are precision in alignment, timing and sequencing. The alignment begins with the outer physical body and leads one to the inner experience of mind and consciousness. So, you could say that yoga is a culturing of the body, but more importantly it is a culturing and maturing of the consciousness.  Last year I had good fortune to travel to India and study with some of BKS Iyengar's long time students. This deepened my faith in yoga practice and I experienced the effects of sustained and directed practiced under skillful teachers. So I feel that as I continue to learn, it becomes my job to share the gift of yoga with others.  BKS Iyengar said, "Teaching Yoga is difficult, but it is the best service you can give to humanity."  

I am also a practicing Buddhist and meditator and my main interest is exploring practices which lead to the cessation of suffering and the growth of wisdom. I feel blessed to live in San Francisco and have the opportunity to study with wise and experienced teachers. 

Working at Zazen in the management team has also been a blessing. I am continually amazed by the positive community space we are creating here. Not only are we a yoga studio, Zazen is also a wellness center and interfaith practice community, so we are a home for many disciplines. 

A unique and fulfilling part of working at Zazen is our daily meditation and check in. Everyday the staff and members sit together for meditation (the public is also welcome). After the meditation  we do a "check in" in which we can share whatever is arising for us that day: physically, mentally, emotionally, basically we can share whatever is arising. Then we state an intention for the shift: this is what we want to manifest in our time together. It can be a practical intention or sometime closer to the heart and spirit. Overall, this practice of meditation and check-in continues to strengthen our community and lead us on in our paths in manifesting what is important to us. 

Question: Teachers often use the phrase, "taking yoga off the mat". What does that mean to you?

Not only do we need community, teachers, teachings in the sacred space of the yoga room or meditation hall, church, mosque or temple, we also need to continue our practice all of the time in our daily life, otherwise there is a disconnect. Disconnection brings suffering. So, to realize yoga, spirituality, or religion you have to BE yoga, be spiritual, be religious. Not just some time, but all of the time. Yoga means union and this union is yoga. To forget even for a moment, to be pulled by desire, greed, hatred, or forgetfulness we are pulled out of this fundamental union. That is why the way we live our life is most important. Our choices, our lifestyle, our patterns our consumption all have a big effect --  but most fundamental is our mind and heart. 

I try to live simply, live with few desires. But it is more than that. There is an active component too. We must actively resist the negative forces and habits in the mind. This transformation is the most difficult thing we can do as human beings, first to transform negative habits into positive ones, and move to a place beyond "good and bad" to a wisdom which sees things as they are and responds appropriately in the moment. This is the essence of Zen and Yoga in my understanding: to never be apart from that fundamental connection. That is what I aspire to.  

Om, shanti, shanti, shanti...