When Tania Kazi gently leads modern spiritual seekers to dive into her Rumi Immersion workshop, the Pakistani-born yogi draws upon her own personal experience. A decade ago, the words and wisdom of the 13th century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic served as a lifeline to Kazi during a very dark time in her life. Now, once a month at Sonic Yoga, she shares with New Yorkers the knowledge, love, and compassion she discovered through Rumi that helped her survive.
YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts sat down with Kazi to learn more about her window on Rumi, Sufism, yoga, and how they coexist within the turmoil of today’s world.
Sharon Watts: What was it like growing up in Pakistan?
Tania Kazi: I was raised in a family where poetry, literature, and music were part of dinner conversation, part of our lives. No religious ideology was forced upon us. I was always told to try and be a “human being” first, and after that, subscribe to any religious point of view. The people of my province, Sindh, [primarily Muslim] are close to their Hindu neighbors, and so yoga was a way of life, not a practice.
SW:When and why did you move to the US?
TK: I came in 1997. In Pakistan I was a television news anchor, and here I worked briefly at CBS. But I found that my sense of self and inner compass would not allow me to be dominated by a broad sweep of prescribed norms.
SW: How did you end up teaching yoga?
TK: Upon my mother’s insistence, I started doing yoga when my marriage ended. I fell in love with the practice and what it brought me. Through my yogic travels across New York City studios, I found excellent teachers, great alignment classes, and supreme wisdom. I have taught in Turkey and in Puerto Rico, and led a retreat in Morocco, and nowhere have I experienced more demanding students than here. New Yorkers don't just do yoga, they demand “good yoga.”
SW:How did you discover Rumi, and why did he resonate so with you?
TK: Loss, transition, and life events had me at my nadir. Shuttling within myself for answers, Rumi came to me quite by chance. I picked up a book of his poetry some ten years ago, on one “dark night of the soul.” The immediate impact was tears. He was guiding me to exactly where I was hurting inside. I couldn’t believe this voice from 800 years ago could feel the pain I was feeling. I started absorbing, breathing, meditating on his words, writing summaries of my understanding of his teachings. I could breath a little more when in the company of his books.
SW:You also are a Muslim and follower of Sufism. Tell us how all this mixes with being a yogi.
TK: When I look inside myself, at my family, my friends, those I grew up with, I see very peace-loving people. I don’t see maniacal terrorists. I wanted to know where is the misinterpretation occurring? Why am I made to feel bad because I am born into a belief system?
First, I read Rumi. I wanted to understand where the sweetness, the nectar of his words was coming from, so I started studying Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam. I thought it was going to be a great challenge to weave in Sufism with Yoga. But as I immerse myself into preparing for these workshops, I find that it is in fact the simplest and most harmonious thing. The teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, Theresa D’Avila, the Buddhists, the Hindu sages, and the Sufi masters are no different at all. There is one common thread running through all of them, and that is surrender to love.
SW: In a post 9/11 world, New Yorkers especially have had to toughen up, move on, yet never forget. Any thoughts?
TK: New Yorkers are probably more in need of love than most others. We live in small boxes, where stepping out is often like entering a combat zone. The poetry and teachings of Rumi de-code and break down the struggles of everyday living into digest-able morsels, infused with love, and make it a little easier for us New Yorkers to get through life. We think we need a “kick ass” asana class, but in truth I think that though we need to sweat, what we really need is little more love than we usually get.
SW: What can we expect from the workshop?
TK: There will be meditation, as well as a translation of the first poem from his volume of poetry (the intention is to go through each poem over the course of time). Mevlana (this is his title – it means the great teacher) Rumi’s persistent teaching is that we must not only hear and see with the ears and eyes in our head, but we must also absorb the wisdom from that of the heart. When people do yoga they are open in incredible ways. The act of moving in unison with someone guiding you into the path of love and its wisdom is a beautiful way to start changing one’s life for the better.
Tania teaches at Sonic Yoga, and also for private clients She is leading a retreat for seekers curious about Sufism, in Istanbul, the last week in March. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sharon Watts' writing can be viewed here, and her artwork here.