Interview with Brian Leaf (Part 2): Being a Yogi in this Age

I think we all find the element of yoga that most quickly and convincingly takes us into that deeper space…

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Being a Yogi in this Age

 

Sujantra: I read in an interview with Rodney Yee, the famous teacher and he said if he only had ten minutes a day for his practice he would do his pranayama. I think we all find the element of yoga that most quickly and convincingly takes us into that deeper space.

Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

PYO

Sujantra: You’ve written two books from the perspective of a yogi. One of them is the misadventures book (Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi) and then the parenting book (Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi), both from the perspective of a yogi and in today’s world, becoming a yogi has become, in my mind, a really positive lifestyle choice and so not only in choosing that but also expressing that into the culture, I am wondering if you could talk a little bit about how it feels to be playing that role.

Brian: It feels great. You mean, do I value and do I feel good about writing the books? About being a yogi in the culture?

Sujantra: Yes, and being a yogi and offering that into society. Your children are going to grow up with the possibility of being a yogi and really focus their life in that, whereas fifty years ago, people didn’t have the option of that type of reality.

Brian: True. My son knows that intuition is really important to me. Guidance, following prana and energy flowing guidance is really a big part of me. Another big part of Kripalu, to go back to your earlier question about what I love about it, it’s funny because he knows that I really value that and I think he does too. Sometimes he will say to me, “Didi,” (that’s what my son calls me), “my intuition tells me that we really should…” you know, whatever it is he really wants or wants to do.

Double Rainbow

By Eric Rolph at English Wikipedia – English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.5, $3

A Rebirth or Re-invigoration

Sujantra: (Laughs.) That’s great. How old is he?

Brian: I have two kids; one is nine and the younger, Benji, is six. To go back to your question, I love it and feel it’s a real process for me to find my passion so to speak or to find my bliss. It’s great because it’s something that we all really need to do, I think, the happiness is really implicit on right livelihood and finding work that inspires us and allows us to express our ideals in the world so the process for me was that the other work I have, as you mentioned, is running a tutoring center. I do a holistic tutoring with kids working on math and other things and over the years I was doing test prep with kids. A bunch of kids said to me, “You should write a book because this is really cool stuff.” So I wrote a book and it got published and then I wrote a bunch of books and one thing led to another and suddenly I was writing books based on pop culture and there’s nothing wrong with that, you know, it’s okay, but it’s not exactly aligned with my values. I felt like a bit of a fraud. For example, I didn’t even want to meet my editor because I just felt like I didn’t know who to be. I don’t really value pop culture that much. I was almost ashamed in a way and that kind of thing takes its toll on me. I didn’t see it coming but one day I suddenly realized I was depressed and I was not being authentic and it took a real toll. It got worse and worse and worse and I kind of just bottomed out and was really depressed and I was meditating one day asking, “What’s happening here?” and I realized that my work was not in alignment with what I believe. I wasn’t living a right livelihood and I just scrapped it and just prayed and asked “what do I need to do?” and little by little my energy started building and little by little this new book started coming to me which was to write the truest book to who I am. The pop culture books were pretty far from who I am. The truest expression of that and myself was Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, my first yoga book. It was really a rebirth or reinvigoration and I was experiencing loving my work and felt like rainbows were popping out of my head as I wrote. (Laughs.) I just enjoyed it and was in a state of bliss and grace so that’s my aim now in every interaction in my life and in my work as well, to have that be an expression of my truer self, of my dharma.

Mother's_Love

By Mark Colomb – Flickr, CC BY 2.0, $3

Detached Parenting

Sujantra: I think that’s a great inspiration to really find out what is authentic within ourselves and then have the courage to make the change. I believe meditation and yoga gives us that inner space where we have the courage to let go of something even though we aren’t sure of what’s coming our way.

Brian: Exactly. That’s my new book that I am working on right now. That is, that right now, that it truly, I don’t know if it’s a story I want to tell, you know I think it’s something people need to hear and that people can benefit from to free them up to really pursue that more and more.

Sujantra: One of our teachers here at the studio, she’s Kripalu trained and she led a workshop for us on finding your dharma. Now, in your book (Misdaventures of the Parenting Yogi) two themes I found throughout were the term ‘conscious parenting’ and as you’ve illustrated in the Benjamin Spock part, developing your intuition. I am really curious how you talk about your child crying and trying to figure out what exactly is going on and needing to learn to trust your intuition. I was wondering if you could just talk about that ability and how your intuition can help you distinguish to what that little child might need or is looking for?

Brian: I think in parenting and all parts of life it’s the same thing. There’s a wisdom and an inner knowing that we all have that we can all tap into. Perhaps it’s in no place stronger than it is in parenting, right, because it’s obviously so innate. I think it could be relative to all parts though. Instead of watching the news and seeing the latest study on whether pomegranate seeds are or are not good for us, I think we’d be a lot better served by doing something like yoga, tai chi, playing basketball, or whatever clears our mind or calms our mind. Then we can hear and see more clearly whether pomegranate or spinach or meat or whatever is good for us. Similarly in parenting I think we can certainly get some advice on logistics from our parents and other folks, but deep in our heart I think we already know what we need to know. So I would say the way to intuition is knocking on the door. I don’t think we need to cultivate the intuition. What we really need to do is quiet the noise, quiet the busy mind, quiet the cultural messages that may be overriding. Quiet the fear that causes us to not follow our intuition and of course, the way to do that is meditation, yoga or whatever practices a person is drawn to. I think that the innate knowledge of how to care for our loved ones is there already.

 

ABOUT BRIAN LEAF

Brian LeafBrian Leaf, MA, is director of The New Leaf Learning Center, a holistic tutoring center in Massachusetts. In his work helping students manage ADD and overcome Misadventures of a Parenting Yogistandardized-test and math phobias, Brian draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. He is certified by The New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine and holds licenses or certifications as a Yoga Teacher, Massage Therapist, Energyworker, and Holistic Educator. He also incorporates Bach Flower Essences, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Reiki, Shiatsu, and Tai Chi into his work.

Brian is the author of eleven books, including Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, Name That Movie!, and McGraw-Hill’s Top 50 Skills for a Top Score. His books have been featured on The CW, MTV.com, Fox News, and Kripalu.org.

Brian lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.

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Interview with Brian Leaf: Self-Medicating with Yoga

Brian Leaf is the author of 11 books including Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi and his most recent book, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi…

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Sujantra: This is Sujantra and today I have the pleasure of interviewing author, parent and yogi, Brian Leaf, who is joining us from Massachusetts. Hi Brian, how are you?

Brian: Good!

Sujantra: It’s so great to have you on the program. Brian Leaf is the author of 11 books including Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi and his most recent book, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi. Some of his other books include: Name That Movie!, Defining Twilight and he also writes educational books on improving your SAT score, math skills and multiple tests, so a wide variety of topics.

Brian: A strange mix.

PYO

Sujantra: A strange mix, indeed. (Laughs.) Our show goes out to yogis all over the world, we have listeners in 38 countries, so I first wanted to touch base with you as a yogi, Brian, because I notice in your most recent book that I was fortunate enough to read, the Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi you dedicate the book to Swami Kripalu. Could you tell us a little bit about how your yogic journey began?

In the Beginning

Brian: In 1989, I started going to college at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and I was a super high achieving New Jersey kid. I was actually a first place debater in New Jersey. I don’t know if you know New Jersey out there, but if you’re the first place debater in New Jersey, it’s pretty intense I think. People argue a little bit. I was really intense and I developed ulcerative colitis which is an ulcer of the colon and it’s kind of rare at that age, I think, and it was pretty awful and debilitating. The first round I had it in high school and my mom took me to a bunch of doctors and it eventually got better. When I was at Georgetown I started taking yoga as sort of a goof, and from the first class it really captured me. It was like I found my place. I think a lot of yogis have this experience. You know it was like day one and class one and it was the first time I felt like I found my church or somewhere I belonged and I felt relaxed for pretty much the first time in my life. From there I got really into it and when the colitis came back, I made the link that when I did yoga it felt better. So I wondered if I did a ton of yoga if I’d feel a ton better. I started doing yoga 5 times a day, a sun salutation and a guided meditation, five times a day.

upward_dog_in_studio

A Healing Practice

Sujantra: A quick question for you, Brian. You’re saying a ton of yoga five times a day. Would you say 5-10 minutes five times a day? How long were you actually practicing?

Brian: Yes, of course, it wasn’t hours at a time. I called it self-medicating because it felt like taking a dose of medicine. I had this epiphany that maybe it would help and I was in college so I had the ability and the time to do it, so five times a day I would do about fifteen minutes of sun salutations and ten to fifteen minutes of relaxation. The style I was studying in college, the lineage the teacher who came to the gym every day to teach, I came to realize it was sort of an integral or Sivananda style so the sun salutations were a big part of it. Not as big a part as Ashtanga yoga, but just as a warm up and it really spoke to me. So I did that five times a day and after three days, it’s like a miracle, the symptoms went away in a way that the meds weren’t helping. It’s like I avoided my doctor after that because I was afraid he was going to tell me I was crazy, you know it was going to make it come back. So on the purely physical level that got me really zealous about it and then over a period of about 25 years it changed my life. I could handle stress better and I learned how to show my emotions, and I opened up my heart and I just sort of was more exposed and open to the spiritual aspect seeking union and freedom and love. Initially the classes I took at Georgetown were Sivananda or Integral inspired, and like anybody in the early 1990s, I did a bunch of Iyengar Yoga and then I found Kripalu. Kripalu for me, and everybody has their own style, it’s like dating there’s no right person to love it’s just who you love, and I dated a bunch of different styles and they all spoke to me in different ways but when I found Kripalu yoga, which is a style based upon something developed at the Kripalu Yoga Ashram in Pennsylvania and then in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts by the folks surrounding Yogi Amrit Desai and his guru Swami Kripalu, and when I found that style it just really woke me up in a whole other way. For me it was the style that brought me past simply the physical, the physical postures and discipline and into something deeper into spirit and heart. That’s the part that really captured me and I’ve been a student of that style ever since.

Feeling at Home

Sujantra: And is there something specific about that style that brought that depth to you or that made it so different?

Brian: Yeah, I think I can answer that question in two ways. It’s the same way any of us could answer the question, “Why do you love your wife” or “Why did you marry your partner or husband? Or why do you love your kids?” There’s, you know, I could say certain reasons , but Kripalu spoke to me. It’s like it mirrored who I am and who I want to be. The values that it has. I think Kripalu really values tuning in and looking inside and finding truth and meaning deep inside not just from academic study and not seeking perfection in the physical postures but going inside and looking for your own inner wisdom or inner guru and living and practicing yoga from that place. I also think Kripalu spoke to me, especially in those days, because I was a perfectionist, a New Jersey debater and was overworked and overstressed. I felt like some styles said to me “You don’t have it quite right. Rotate your hips thirty degrees,” whereas Kripalu whispered in my ear, “You’re good enough. Relax.” (Laughs.) That’s what I needed. That’s a simplification and could be said for any style, both things I said, but that’s what got me in. The deeper answer goes along with “Why do you love your partner?” it just spoke to me and I fell in love. It matched me and made sense to me. It completed me to quote Jerry McGuire.

Twisted_Dog_in_studio

Sujantra: The ancient scriptures say that when the student is ready the teacher appears. For each of us, there is no right or wrong path, but there is definitely a path that each of us is going to accelerate on the most.

Brian: Yeah, and like in the Ayurvedic and Yogic texts we learn that there are different parts to one’s evolution. We need different things at different times in our evolution, no hierarchy just different things at different times. Just like a different posture might be one’s edge at different times in one’s practice. Maybe for a year, forward bend is the most challenging. You know it brings up tension and emotions and who knows what, and then for five years it’s shoulderstand, and then suddenly it’s a forward bend again. I think it’s like that; there are different things we need to be pushed physically, to be pushed emotionally or spiritually or to do more breath work at different times in our practice.

Sujantra: Has your practice moved to a home practice where you do primarily a lot of asana or do you do meditation and pranayama? What does your personal practice look like?

Brian: It’s true that it mostly did go to a home practice. For years and years I would go to classes many times a week, I even lived at Kripalu for a while. At some point, I guess when I found what I particularly wanted, and maybe a lot of yogis have this experience, it did turn to a home practice because I could do exactly what I wanted and what felt right to me. For a while, when I first had kids, it was hard to do yoga and at that point meditation had become more the priority. At first, yoga was a pure pleasure for me. I never had to try to do it and never had to work to fit it in, I just loved it. I looked forward to it all the time and at some point it did shift a little bit where meditation was my joy and what I loved and looked forward to. The postures were more like getting my homework done. Then after I had kids and there was less time and my boys were little, that was something that actually did kind of go a little bit which was a shame because now I was older and sitting all the time writing and more stressed and I needed it more than ever and then my back started hurting which got me back into it. It had gone to the wayside a little bit. Meditation had always been a priority at that phase and now I am back into doing postures at home and having a pretty strong home practice.

 

ABOUT BRIAN LEAF

Brian LeafBrian Leaf, MA, is director of The New Leaf Learning Center, a holistic tutoring center in Massachusetts. In his work helping students manage ADD and overcome Misadventures of a Parenting Yogistandardized-test and math phobias, Brian draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. He is certified by The New England Institute of Ayurvedic Medicine and holds licenses or certifications as a Yoga Teacher, Massage Therapist, Energyworker, and Holistic Educator. He also incorporates Bach Flower Essences, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Reiki, Shiatsu, and Tai Chi into his work.

Brian is the author of eleven books, including Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi, Name That Movie!, and McGraw-Hill’s Top 50 Skills for a Top Score. His books have been featured on The CW, MTV.com, Fox News, and Kripalu.org.

Brian lives in western Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.

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Yoga at Home Is Key to Healthier Lifestyle

A research report titled “Frequency of Yoga Practice Predicts Health: Results of a National Survey of Yoga Practitioners” suggests that home yoga practice is key to a healthier diet…

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A research report titled “Frequency of Yoga Practice Predicts Health: Results of a National Survey of Yoga Practitioners” suggests that home yoga practice is key to a healthier diet, exercise and improved mental health. Home practice of yoga is also a better predictor of health than years of class practice or class frequency.

Tosca Braun, a 200-hour Kripalu Yoga instructor and 500-hour Integrative Yoga Therapist notes, “In my own experience, home practice is sweetly satisfying. It can also become stale and rigid without continued inspiration from teachers or attendance at classes or retreats. Hitting the mat can sometimes become another box to check off, with my mind racing through the day’s events as I lose the anchors of body and breath. At other times, the strength or motivation to practice may desert me, due to life’s emotional upheavals. It is then that I am most likely to attend class or seek community, where I find the support, inspiration and belonging I have longed for in my home practice. When I return to my home yoga mat, it is that much sweeter for having been touched by sangha and a skillful teacher’s reminder to inhabit my body and breath with compassionate presence.”

Yoga Promises Healthier Life

According to the report, Yoga shows promise as an intervention targeting a number of outcomes associated with lifestyle-related health conditions including cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and cancer. While aerobic exercise long has been a valuable tool in combating these health conditions, a review of clinical trials comparing exercise to yoga found yoga to be equal or superior to aerobic exercise in improving a number of outcomes associated with chronic health conditions.

Pilgrimage Yoga Online

Home Practice is Key

The frequency of home practice appears to be very important— more important than how long an individual has been practicing or how many classes one takes. It’s not enough simply to learn how to do healthy behaviors. Rather, healthy behaviors must be incorporated into one’s daily life. While these findings suggest that individuals will only glean benefits from yoga practice that are proportional to the energy they are willing to invest in making it a part of their lives, the findings also suggest that they do not have to practice for years in order to reap the rewards.

What one practices, be it the different types of physical poses, breath work, or meditation, is important because the different aspects of yoga practice may well have different health benefits.

From: Alyson Ross, Erika Friedmann, Margaret Bevans, and Sue Thomas, “Frequency of Yoga Practice Predicts Health: Results of a National Survey of Yoga Practitioners,” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol. 2012, Article ID 983258, 10 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/983258

 

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