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Searching For Rasa

“For many people, the word ‘philosophy’ brings to mind images of old white men in

ivory towers with long beards,” Jacob Kyle said. “They immediately think that philosophy is irrelevant to their lives–but we’re hoping to change that.”

Kyle, along with Jimmy Burgio, Jackie Simon and Matt Lombardo, will lead an

in-City, two-weekend philosophy retreat at Pure Yoga West that's set to kick-off on April 17.

Pure Yoga, one of the City’s hippest studios offering over 20 different styles of yoga, is an interesting place to hold an ancient philosophy workshop. Most New Yorkers, in typical type-A fashion, are more concerned with getting their asanas kicked, rather than diving into the mindful depths of this 5,000-year-old spiritual practice. And now with Zumba, spinning, Bari and CrossFit being stirred into the mix, the average Westerner can’t tell the difference between all the trendy fitness cocktails.

So could philosophy be the next vogue? Here’s to hoping. And these four teachers, veterans of the popular vinyasa circuit, could be the catalysts.

“People should come expecting lively discourse, and real, gritty explanations,” says Simon, who studies Sanskrit texts and practices with Dharma Mittra and Dana Flynn when she’s not mothering her 5 children. “I really look forward to helping these students make the shift from searching outside, to seeking within.”

The retreat, entitled In Search of Rasa: Embodied Yoga Philosophy for Modern Living, will focus on the usual suspects such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutras, as well as some lesser-known ones like the Shiva Sutras, the Narada Bhakti Sutras and the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.

“We’ll hopefully allay some of the fears that philosophy is ‘disembodied,’ hence the

workshop’s name” Kyle said. And the word rasa, Sanskrit for “nectar,” “denotes a sensory quality that we’re looking to cultivate in our lives…in other words, we’re not seeking some abstract concept, but rather a state of living that is more functional with the unpredictable fluctuations of the world.”

Kyle, who studied Western philosophy and pursued a Ph.D. at The New School before choosing to take his master’s, found many academic philosophical discussions to be insular and dry. “I sensed a disconnect between the ideas and their manifestation…and I saw my peers as being more interested in ‘mental gymnastics’ rather than actually implementing the ideas to change their lives for the better,” he said. He began to focus more on Eastern philosophy, finding it to be a better opportunity for bridging mind and body. But he noted that Western roots are hard to shed. “As much as we may want to wear malas and chant Sanskrit, the West is still our heritage and it will always inform the way we think and feel.”

Burgio, Kyle’s co-conspirator, spent time living at the Satchidananda Ashram in Virginia and has directed several teacher trainings here in the NYC area. He found that “there’s a general lack of importance being placed on the roots of the yoga tradition these days…but we’re going to bring these teachings to light in a way that will make them accessible to all.”

Many modern practitioners are perhaps intimidated by philosophy’s inclination towards pedanticism, afraid that it might be boring or abstruse, “but no one will be put to sleep” Burgio promised. “There are so many ways a seeker can ‘live their yoga’ more fully.”

Various mindfulness practices and meditation techniques will be investigated–tools people can add to their toolbox and bring into their lives. “Time and again, these practices have proven their abilities to help us cope with depression, anxiety and stress,” Burgio said. “They’ve been a huge savior in my own life, and I always look forward to passing them on to students.”

This blend of lecture, discussion, meditation and chanting is a new addition to the Pure West roster. “I think it’ll really bring a sense of gravity to Pure’s existing teacher training program and their other offerings,” Burgio said. “It really shows the yoga community’s yearning to move closer towards the inner practices of the yoga tradition.”

Agreeing, Lombardo, who hails by way of Jivamukti, added that Pure already offers its members some of the best asana teachers in the City. “The students are mastering the postures very well. The next stage is for them to discover what to do with those toned bodies and minds.”

Kyle’s website promises that retreat participants will learn the difference between yoga and Zumba. Which is? “Intention,” he said. “Although I haven’t actually done Zumba before but I’m pretty sure it leaves that bit out.”

He commented on the relative lack of this type of program in the City’s yoga scene. “There really isn’t, that I know of, an opportunity like this where participants will have this much time to Socratically explore a diversity of wisdom texts…and, of course, have a good time, too.”

–Michael Laskaris

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