NOTE: This interview excerpt is transcript only
Acclaimed yoga and meditation teacher Sarah Powers is known and loved for her unique approach—Insight Yoga—which combines traditional yoga with the meridians of Chinese medicine, as well as Buddhist meditation. She is the co-founder of the Insight Yoga Institute and author of Insight Yoga, which interweaves Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and Transpersonal Psychology into an integral practice to discover and enliven the body, heart and mind. Sarah feels that enlivening the physical and pranic bodies, as well as learning to meet our psychological reactivity is paramount for preparing one to deepen and nourish insights into one’s essential nature – a natural state of awareness.
On Leading Transcript
Seana Lowe Steffen, host: What compels you to do the work that you do?
Sarah Powers, guest: Seeing people not know that their essence is bright and spacious is painful. What compels me to do the work is the level of ease and joy that my genuine practice has given me. Starting with such raw material and difficulty has given me such confidence that others can find a way in and a road home. It would feel so ungenerous of me not to offer at least some of that path to live with greater potential.
Seana: Can you say a little about, in terms of that greater potential, the role that meditation plays in discovering potential?
Sarah: I was just reading a lovely text called the Vajra Essence text, and they say anyone who doesn’t meditate is actually considered insane. Now neuroscientists are finding out the way that our brains habitually move in groves, narrowing our focus on what we view. Because we have such a plethora of details to assimilate all the time, if we don’t have a practice that helps us rest in our natural, intelligent clarity and not compulsively manage the details, we are going to be not so trustworthy. You know the mind is a very potentially disturbing feature of our human-ness. It is not that we get gentler or wiser with age. We get more conditioned to react in ways that our fears have helped us to be compulsive. So in order to really cleanse reactivity, we haven’t found a better way than meditation. And although meditation is really difficult, that deeper potential of being the natural state that holds all states is the ability to hold, as they say in Zen, ten thousand joys and sorrows: the bitter-sweetness of this existence. Without meditation we have less choice that way. Celebration feels tinged with imminent loss. To penetrate what is true you need meditation. It changes our brain. We have new neural networks. It allows us to experience the love we may not have experienced as children. We have this natural love and brightness that has been covered, fractured, and fragmented.
Seana: What does sustainability mean to you?
Sarah: Sustainability is recognizing our fragility here, recognizing what the Earth needs and listening, and then acting from that listening.
Seana: What would you say are the greatest blocks to sustainability?
Sarah: Greed, hatred and delusion. These are called the three poisons. And so the blocks would be our collective ignorance abut our interdependence with each other, the planet, and the population. The way that we live assuming we are separate selves so that all of our options roll out from there. …On the night of the war in Iraq, one of my teachers from Japan was visiting and he is a very awakened yogi. He was in Japan as a kamikaze-trained fighter during WWII. He had about 75 people in the room that day. He said, “I know that many of you want to run out of this room, to make a difference to try to stop the war, but the best thing you can do to really help this warring planet right now is bring out the love from your inner practice. It is from there—of course those actions are also needed—but it is only from there that you can actually bridge the divisiveness that is now so engrained in our species. It is so ancient.” Having the masters remind us that it is that two-way journey. Sometimes activists feel like there is too much to do to spend time on the cushion, coming back to the question, why meditate? I know a few people who have world organizations and see how, as they become exhausted being a support for others, they can neither model what they’re helping people heal nor can they have a life that is sustainable.
Seana: What role does yoga play in serving this vision of sustainability and is there anything you’d like to say about yin or insight yoga?
Sarah: I know some of your readers won’t be familiar with yoga probably. Yoga is translated as ‘union,’ or I like the word integration. It is a set of behaviors to garner access to the different dimensions of our nature. It is a practice, a place where we get to live our deeper potential for that little time. Insight and yoga together as words for me evolved out of wanting to help us see what is true. Yoga or insight yoga becomes a place to really give ourselves room to breathe, not only literally but into the emotional body or the feeling body with mind-training. The physical is important and it involves healing and sustaining—talking about sustainability—it’s the body’s ability to restore itself and actually regenerate cellularly.
Seana: Given the state of leadership and the state of the world, what would you have all leadership do at this time in our history?
Sarah: Develop a practice in open mind, grounded in body. That is what I feel is the ingredient that could turn over our stewardship on this planet. Look at the Dalai Lama. He takes four to five hours a day, and he is one of the busiest leaders on the planet. I think if people just start with 10 minutes a day, so that interaction isn’t just on the horizontal plane listening to others opinions, but there is access to the vertical and intuitive plane that is beyond self-interest. I would have everybody sit and meditate to save ourselves from our self-reactivity.
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Integrate Awareness And Life Practice
Insight Yoga is a series of practices distilled by Sarah Powers. These combined disciplines, some yogic, some Buddhist and some Taoists, are designed to identify, open and strengthen the various physical and psychological components of one’s experience – fostering a kinder, clearer and altogether healthier and more mature relationship to one’s self and others. Insight Yoga inspires this psychospiritual transformation through passive (Yin) and active (Yang) yoga postures combined with breathing practices, visualization, mindfulness meditation, self-inquiry and dialogue, and extended periods of silence.
Insight Yoga Institute offers five and ten day retreats that assist practitioners in integrating yoga, Buddhism and spiritual psychology into a skillful practice to balance the body, heart and mind.