Noah Mazé is celebrated in the yoga community as one of the most advanced and proficient practitioners and teachers of Anusara Yoga, and he’s coming to New Zealand in September to deliver a weekend workshop called Heroes and Heroines: Stories and Practices of Yoga.
The Yoga Lunchbox caught up with Noah in the middle of his extremely busy schedule to find out how he got into yoga, why he’s coming all the way down to New Zealand and just what heroes and heroines have to do with yoga. See the end of this interview for details about the September workshop in Christchurch.
1. How’d you get into yoga, and into Anusara Yoga? And why Anusara?
My parents were interested in South Asian spirituality before I was born, and the philosophies and practices of the yoga tradition were things that I grew up with. They were such a part of my life, that I thought everyone spent time in the morning meditating and contemplating the Teachings before the day got busy. I have come to learn this is not necessarily the case…
I started more formal Hatha Yoga practice when I was 13 years old. Prior to that, my athletic/physical self was a bit separate from the emphasis of the meditative/contemplative tradition I was raised in.
On the mat, I found the perfect blending of all the aspects I loved; from the physical engagement and affirmation of embodiment, the focus and discipline, the mindfulness and breath awareness, to the philosophies and teachings that informed it all. I remember feeling that I had found home, in the practices of Hatha Yoga.
Richard Freeman was my first Hatha Yoga teacher, in the Ashtanga Vinyasa style, and I started going to his classes with my mom when I was 14 in my hometown of Boulder, CO. I remember getting high school credit through a health class for taking yoga with Richard.
I first took classes with John Friend in 1994, and did my first Anusara Yoga Teacher Training in 1998. When I committed to studying with John, Anusara’s Universal Principles of Alignment enabled all my poses to feel better and go quite a bit deeper. Where I had felt a plateau in my practice, I no longer felt that I had a ceiling with how far I could go in the asanas. As a teacher, I love the creativity of the principles of alignment, of Tantric philosophy, of sequencing to create a new class every time.
Anusara has a beautiful emphasis on community, and I have friends all over the world that I get to practice with and learn from. The philosophy has become a growing love of mine over the last 10 years, and I study deeply the Auspicious Wisdom that my teacher Dr. Douglas Brooks calls Rajanaka Yoga.
I love the emphasis that Anusara Yoga puts on the philosophy, and how we bring this onto the mat AS the asana practice, as we are really encouraged to cultivate the fullness of our embodiment; body and mind and heart. There really is not difference between the philosophical vision and how we do asana on the mat.
2. Have you been down to New Zealand before and how did Katie Lane convince you, as one of the world’s top Anusara yoga teachers, to make the trip?
I have never been to New Zealand, and it has always been my dream to visit. My wife, Tracy, and our almost two year old daughter, Madeleine, will come with me too. So for me, this is a dream coming true; Katie really didn’t need to convince me of anything.
3. This workshop is called Heroes and Heroines: Stories and Practices of Yoga – what relevance does myth and character have for yoga? Surely this is more suited to a creative writing workshop?
The Yoga Tradition is rich with myth, iconography and allegory, and I love to bring the teachings and stories into our practices on the mat.
Throughout the weekend, we will explore teachings and myth from the great epic stories of Mahabharata and Ramayana, and see how these ancient stories can inspire and inform our contemporary lives.
The Tantric yogas tells us that we are every character in the story, and the tradition offer us multiples ways to reflect upon and to know ourselves, as well as the world we live in. When we can experience multiple perspectives, our world expands and we are more empathetic and compassionate to others. When we can’t do this, we are in danger of isolation and fundamentalism.
Put this in practical terms, and we can interpret the same pose (take downward facing dog for example) differently each day, depending on the awareness and intention we have that day. In a way, we write our story on the mat every time we practice, with our efforts (tapas), intention, asana sequence, and the virtue that we are cultivating.
If we assume we are every character in the story, then we have all the greatness of hero/heroine and God/Goddess, as well as the possibilities of the villains and demons. Yoga then, is the power and awareness of the choices we are constantly making; to embody our most heroic possibility, or something less. Why not embody the highest?
4. For some people, the idea of doing yoga all weekend seems really tough – what level do you need to be at to come along and how is it possible to do hours of yoga a day?
In a weekend of workshops, we have more time for every aspect of practice, and a lot of growth and transformation is possible. It is really ideal to do a weekend of workshops a few times a year, to advance your practice in this more intensive way, and then apply the new insights and openings in your regular weekly yoga classes.
The baseline of your practice shifts to a new level after a whole weekend, and in a weekend, we go deeper in all the asanas, the sequencing, the principles of alignment that allow us to perform the poses well. We have time to address discomfort and pain in the poses, and I always present stages and modifications for the variety of levels present in the room. Most people are surprised at how fast a three hour workshop goes by, because they are so engrossed and engaged in the experience.
5. How do people usually find your workshops – what do they walk away saying?
Well, I think a lot of people leave deeply inspired. Inspired by their own greatness and light and beauty, inspired by the community, and inspired to even more deeply commit themselves to their practices. When we are done, people always ask me about how to continue this in their personal practices, what books and resources can they read for the philosophy. It really seems like a strong infusion of energy and transformation into people’s lives, as well as their practices.
6. Anything else you’d like to add?
I am deeply honored and inspired to come to New Zealand with my family, and am really looking forward to it. See you on the mat!
Anusara Yoga Weekend Workshop with Noah Maze | Heroes and Heroines: Stories and Practices of Yoga
The stories of heroes and heroines provide empowering and visionary allegories of our yogic journey. In these sessions, asana will interweave with myth and teachings to create a rich experience of alignment. We will find ourselves in the stories as we integrate the tales into the narrative of the body and heart on the mat.
Bring an open mind, a willing heart, and be ready to play and work hard, with a desire to bring the great teachings of yoga directly into your life. All sessions will be mixed-level, poses will be taught in stages with intelligent and creative sequencing to empower everyone to their greatest potential.
Christchurch, September 3rd to 5th, 2010, venue TBC
Friday 6 to 8pm:
Dive into the weekend’s themes! Full spectrum practice
Saturday 9:30am to 12pm:
Hearts of Courage: Standing Poses & Backbends
Saturday 2 to 4:30pm:
Inner Worlds Part 1: Hip Openers, Twists, Pranayama & Meditation
Sunday 9:30am to 12pm:
Step Into the Flow of Grace: Creative Vinyasa, Backbends, Arm Balances
Sunday 2 to 4:30pm:
The Yoga of Healing: Yoga & Therapeutics (Lower Body) for Students & Teachers
Cost: EARLY BIRD PRICE $250 before August 1st, $275 after August 1st.
Contact: Katie Lane at Yoga Kula to book your place now.