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Lions Roar : July 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2008 60 WHEN SHE WAS in her early twenties, Sarah Powers earned a graduate degree in transpersonal psychology that required her to learn a physical discipline with spiritual roots. Deciding to study yoga, she felt defeated throughout most of the first class. Powers, who is cofounder of Metta Journeys, which offers yoga retreats to women and children in developing countries, explains, “Being young, healthy, and athletic, I had assumed the practice wouldn’t be a problem, but I was brought down to my blood, sweat, and tears nature, and halfway through I decided yoga wasn’t for me.” Something changed for her, however, when at the end she laid down for shavasana (the motionless “corpse pose” that concludes most yoga sessions). She experienced a distinct and unusual peace that until that moment she’d only read about. “I pinpointed it as an absence of longing,” she says. “There was clarity underneath that joy. I thought, I have to come back. It’s going to be hard but hard doesn’t mean bad—just like easy doesn’t mean right.” Powers was also introduced to Buddhist philosophy through her graduate studies. “I read Jack Kornfield’s and Frances Vaughn’s work, and I felt they were so articulate about their own psychology—both the beautiful, insightful sides and the broken aspects. The psychological training they’d had in university gave them language and helped them to help other people, but the practices forged the pathways.” As for her own path of discovery, Powers says that bringing yoga as a physical discipline together with her more metaphysi- cal readings seemed like an easier combination to start with than just sitting down and facing her mind. “While doing asana and pranayama [yogic breathing] practice,” she continues, “I was readying myself for meditation.” Then, when she was ready, Powers sought out a Buddhist medi- tation teacher, and now—decades later—her yoga and Buddhism are integrated, as described in her upcoming book, Insight Yoga: Integrating Yin/Yang Yoga and Buddhist Meditation. “Buddhists are yogis,” she says. “They may or may not be interested in moving their bodies in certain patterns to unleash pranic flow, but if they are, it accelerates their discovery and insight.” On the other hand, says Powers, the yoga world may be too interested in feeling vi- brant in the body and not interested enough in freeing the mind. Yet, she adds, “Yoga focused only on shape serves a purpose for a certain level of development. Down the line, it will tend to change someone who doesn’t even know they’re being changed. “Coming through the doorway of the body, people eventually realize they have a mind that needs attention and, coming through the doorway of the mind, they eventually realize they have a body that is going to be either an obstacle or a support. Both directions point to their opposite, but more people become freer with just mind-based practices than become freer with just body-based practices. There are more pitfalls for body-based people. There’s a tendency to do body practices to stay thin, have tight buns, and get attention for doing certain postures—egocentric motivations stemming from not knowing oneself truly. Eventually, as a yoga community we tap into deeper truths, but it’s slower if they’re not in the yoga room to start with. And they need to be there, because it’s not really yoga if it doesn’t involve the heart and mind.” Sarah Powers: Different Doorways MICHAELSEXTONPHOTO JULY 58-65.indd 60 JULY 58-65.indd 60 4/25/08 11:42:09 AM 4/25/08 11:42:09 AM