Groundlessness is a concept that Pema Chodron discusses a lot in her wonderful writing and talks. It refers to shunyata, or the buddhist concept of emptiness. This is not emptiness in the sense that nothing is there. It is emptiness in a sense that nothing, including ourselves, is solid and predictable. This is not some myth or made up story to get through hard times, it is actual reality. We can test it and see that our results are always the same. Nothing on this earth, in this universe, stays the same.
For me the vinyasa practice embodies the sadhana of opening to groundlessness. We traverse from pose to pose with skill because we have studied the postures themselves. We prepare ourselves well for that journey by understanding alignment and actions in each pose. But what about the spaces between the postures? In the process of transforming our body from form to form can we be as present with the spaces between, those inevitable areas of groundlessness?
As I prepare for my workshop today, I am reminded of this beauty and elegance of attention. Between each shape is a multitude of possibilities and that wide openness is the very same thing as shunyata. Emptiness actually means that anything is possible.
I look forward to sharing this work with you today and my hope is that it inspires ever more practitioners to take “vinyasa” beyond the athleticism of achieving great stunts and many chaturangas and into the space of shunyata. Skill in action. Opening to possibility. Letting go of where we fixate and seeing that it is wide open.
See you there.
Perhaps you have been wondering why things have been so quiet on the Breakti front lately. There are several reasons for that. I am writing today, at a crossroads, as I prepare to let go of the two weekly Breakti classes that Om Factory has been so gracious to let me try on at their studio. It is time, for many reasons, to let them go.
As I always imagined it to be, Breakti has become larger than me. I never wanted it to be the Anya Show and it initially had become that more than I ever planned - perhaps a necessary step in the process, but it certainly wasn’t my vision of what was ultimately possible. What is amazing is that now there are many teachers out there who have trained with me who can represent this work in some way. Some teachers, like Elisa Mangubat, are working with teens and doing incredible things with the meeting points of hip hop culture and yoga. Other teachers, like Sasha Nelson, are integrating their knowledge of holistic nutrition, wellness and coaching into workshops and retreats that span mindful movement styles and self-awareness on many levels. Angelina Borodiansky incorporates what she has learned into her aerial classes incredibly skillfully. Many other teachers who have trained with me incorporate the work in their own ways. That is amazing. It is awesome. It is what I always wished for the work. And I will continue to mentor them along in that process, however what I recognize is that the capacity for me to mentor them on their own journey is dependent on me letting go of part of my own journey, in some ways.
In the same breath, I have struggled to make Breakti a codified practice and have realized that it isn’t. Break”dance” is a freestyle dance. Yoga is a freeform practice that meets you where you are and is meant to be healing and connective on every level. Hip hop as a movement has evolved, devolved, drifted and meandered in its path. All of these forms influence who I am and what I teach and so every time I came up with “set sequences”, “set rules”, etc. for the teachings, my own practice would ultimately supersede those structures and I would find myself leaving them behind. In the times that I have tried to force the expected into a practice that could not, should not encourage expectation, I have been left with frustration and a heavy heart.
Ultimately I am working with a practice that is continuously evolving, constantly re-integrating and reforming itself. In other words, it is alive. To codify the form could perhaps make me a lot of money and help me to easily teach others to teach it as one simple style of class, taught in rote fashion and let that be enough. But it wasn’t ever enough. The trainings I have given have been similar but also vastly different. The material was in many ways the same but even within a span of six months the Breakti practice had changed enough that I was teaching different things to new trainees. I recognize this is a part of every good practice and every good teacher, but for the companies that wanted to make money off of me and Breakti, it can’t work like that. And for branding and marketing purposes, it can be hard to pin down the “look” of something that seems to shift as soon as you try to fix anything about it. I have outgrown the “get down in your dog” tagline of five years ago. I have outgrown the urban influenced ganesha logo that still represents this class. I still love those things and the thought and work that went into them, but they don’t speak to what I am doing now. The more I have tried to rebrand myself, the more I question why? In another five years I will simply be in the same boat again. So I’ve decided to take it from a different perspective.
Over time I have realized that Breakti has become just another iteration of what yoga is. It is a yoga practice, through and through. There is nothing flashy, trendy or incredibly innovative about it, except that I am constantly present with what I am teaching, constantly looking at my own mindful movement practice and seeking out what is valuable and potent and offering that out, often straying out of the realm of traditional yoga through the influence of other forms I study which inspire me; breaking and contemporary dance, therapeutic body work, and more. I suppose this could be considered “innovative”, but I also believe that weaving the tapestry of our livelihood through felt experience should be the norm of yoga teachers everywhere. No matter what we teach, what style or form, we should always be trying it on and questioning what is working, what is skillful; what can be incorporated and what can be let go. Ultimately, all of the scaffolding that we create for ourselves and in which we learn must also be taken down at some point in order for the inherent grace and beauty of the practice to spill forth.
What I teach in Breakti-labeled classes is what I teach everywhere - it influences all of the yoga I teach and it always will. There are certainly some unique and slightly different postures and transitions you may not find in other teachers’ classes, but movement is archetypal and the internet leaves nothing to guessing should you wish to include breakin movement in your yoga classes. How I teach everything is my very own method, taken from a myriad of other methods that work well and are skillful, put together in a way that makes sense in my body, in my heart and mind. At the same time, I continue to study. I continue to be curious about where my blind spots are and I continue to bring what moves me into my classes in a way that connects with people. That is Breakti. That is also yoga. Yoga is Breakti. Breakti is yoga.
So what’s in a name? This name Breakti has both haunted me and cheered me on. At first it was a meeting point between bhakti and breakdance; still two things I hold dear to my heart and which influence me in numerous ways. My dear and longtime friend and former Breakti DJ affiliate, Ben “Scribe” Goldfarb came up with the name and it was perfect for the time. It was a perfect meeting of where I stood at that moment. It still resonates in many ways, especially for the incredibly fun and bhakti-filled workshops I still lead and for the amazing work myself and others are doing with Breakti Kids. But somehow the name has also limited me. It has confused participants or would-be participants at times , and it has alienated perhaps more than included for one reason or another.
In some ways Breakti has defined me in the same ways that I have defined it, and yet both the practice and I are so much more than the limitations that can be imposed by being viewed as one thing and one thing only. Without going into much detail, I will say that I have felt confined by the image that the Breakti practice has led others to project onto me and I’m ready to shed some of that. I am also ready to turn my attention onward and encourage the teachers I have trained to grow in their own way. Maybe one of them will take Breakti and run with it, and maybe no one will. But what is important to me is that they all feel supported and I haven’t had the time or energy to give them time even when they asked for it. That all changes now.
I began this letter by stating that this work is so much larger than me, and it is. It will continue to grow in many ways. I will continue to teach Breakti workshops, and am currently working on a Breakti Kids training; I know other teachers have some really cool stuff up their sleeves as well. But no longer do I wish for it to be the solo Anya Porter Show. It was certainly fun for a while, but it gets lonely going solo. Breakti is about community. It is about connection, integrity, and acting from a place of skillfulness and realness. It is certainly about living your potential but it is also about lifting others up along the way. That hasn’t been happening the way I have wanted it to happen, so here starts a new era.
I want to thank so many people who have supported me in this process. I can’t even begin to list you all. I hope to see you in class sometime soon, or at a workshop or training. Until then… keep it real.
When I first began to practice and then to teach yoga eight years ago, I was understandably enthusiastic and admittedly naive. I thought my life had been changed for the better FOREVER. I was intent on studying and teaching therapeutically minded, vigorous and heart opening yoga that I was sure would help my students as much as I felt it helped me at the time. Nine years later, my practice and teaching have changed immensely, and through a variety of injuries attained and healed, physical achievements met (and then met with a desire for more), and successes and heartbreaks both on and off the mat, I have begun to actually learn the value of evolving with a practice that supports the whole person, not just their muscle tone, flexibility or ability to achieve some temporary and surface notion of “inner peace”. In other words, I have re-oriented my view.
The word paravrtti (pa ra vrit tee) is often used in yoga asana to refer to the act of revolution in a posture (as in revolved triangle - paravrtti trikonasana). In looking at Buddhist texts, it can also mean to to transform or re-orient one’s view radically; so radically that it can refer to the actual process of enlightenment…
I’d like to take the concept down to earth and discuss the paravrtti of one’s own practice and LIFE. The question I ask myself each day as I step to the mat, sit on the cushion, plan a class, or even communicate: ”How can I meet myself and others with humor and compassion, yet consistently challenge and require the greatest amount of self-inquriy so that we can all benefit from this exchange?” Who knew that was going to be a thing I asked myself often? The paravrtti, or radical re-orientation of our view in ANYTHING comes from the act of asking ourselves to wake up. Again and again. This can be an incredibly re-orienting (and sometimes disorienting) process that is also, at its essence, quite painful, because it asks us to let go of the ways that we fixate. How do we keep waking up? By lightening up.
Last night I had the pleasure of taking class from an amazing and humble gentleman, Gabriel Halpern. His theme in class was “slacken the reigns” (read, LIGHTEN UP). He mentioned the notion that our practice should be serious but the attitude on and off the mat should be to “slacken the reigns”. We approach everything so tightly and with so much fixation. Even our yoga practice, which is meant to create a sense of balancing opposites, can become too tight, too rigid or too aggressive. Perhaps this resonates with you??
One of the things I have learned through the process of developing Breakti® is that in order for this practice to evolve, I cannot fixate on ANYTHING. Not one thing. In addition, if I lose a sense of humor, all else is also lost. My process has been slow and careful, despite being pulled in different directions to quicken the pace. The more that I work through the material over time with care and patience, the more I find freedom in letting go of old rigid ideas of what a practice should be.
Paravrtti is to revolve, but it is also to evolve. To evolve requires fluidity, grace and humor. When we get stuck in fixation, nothing is moving, the air is stale and we feel trapped in the sense of deluded comfort we get from believing our ideas to be solid and permanent.
Can you sense the areas of your own life or practice where you hold on with white knuckles and grit your teeth? What would it feel like to let things go a bit, to release the grip and lighten up? Yes, it feels incredibly scary, but I choose the wind in my hair, just over the speed limit and cruising in the sunshine over a sterile and stale safe windowless room any day.
The crazy wisdom approach to fear is to not regard it purely as a hang-up, but to realize that fear is intelligent. It has a message of its own. Fear is worth respecting. If we dismiss fear as an obstacle and try to ignore it, then we might end up having accidents. In other words, fear is a very wise message.
You can’t con fear, or frighten fear. You have to respect fear. You might try to tell yourself that it’s not real, that it’s false, but such an approach is questionable. It is better to develop some kind of respect, realizing that neurosis is also a message, rather than garbage that you should just throw away. The whole starting point for working with fear and other emotions is the idea of samsara and nirvana, confusion and enlightenment, being one. Samsara is not regarded as a nuisance alone, but it has its own potent message that is worthy of respect.
Fear contains insight as well as the panicky blind quality we often associate with it. The element of panic has a deaf and dumb quality—you know: doing the best you can, in spite of your fear, hoping everything will be okay. But fear without hope seems to be something very insightful. If you give up your hope of attaining something, then tuning into fear is tuning into its insightful quality. Then, skillful means or action arises spontaneously out of the fear itself. Fear can be extremely resourceful rather than representing hopelessness. It is the opposite of hopelessness, in fact.