Meet Susanna Harwood Rubin
Blending her life as a yoga teacher with her background as a visual artist and writer, Susanna Harwood Rubin has located herself at the intersection between art and the divine. She is a storyteller who loves weaving Hindu myth and Tantric philosophy into her yoga classes. Rubin lectured and wrote extensively for MoMA for many years, including co-writing the book Looking at Matisse and Picasso, and is now at work on a second book about yoga. Kathleen Kraft sat down with her recently to learn more about it and her new online writing course, 30Words30Days, which explores self-expression through yogic concepts.
Kathleen Kraft: Tell me about your new book.
Susanna Harwood Rubin: The tentative title is Yoga 365. It’s a yogic thought, or bit of information, for every day of the year. Every month has a couple of myths, several asanas, a breathing exercise, a mantra, and a mudra, and the rest will be yogic concepts like gratitude or compassion and how they fit into your life. It distills big ideas and makes them applicable to the day to day.
KK: Can you give me an example?
SHR: Sure, each asana offers you an experience of yourself, so every time you move your body into an asana, you are giving yourself the opportunity to experience a particular aspect of who you are. With a pose you love, you may connect with your calm or energized or intrigued self, or with an asana that’s challenging for you, you may experience your frustrated, or perplexed or, hopefully, your humorous self. The next time you practice receive each asana as an experience of yourself… As you practice, your self-knowledge grows and deepens.
KK: How did you come up with the idea for the book?
SHR: I actually had an idea for a different book, but a yoga-writer-teacher friend, Emily Stone, had been approached by Chronicle Books to write a daily book. She was working on other projects, so she told them about me. I auditioned and it worked out.
It was unusual—people don’t always offer someone else’s name in that type of situation, but she did.
KK: The Hindu myths seem very significant to you in your practice, teaching, and writing. Tell us how you got involved with them.
SHR: I was madly in love with Greek and Roman myths when I was a child. The first weekend of my yoga teacher training I met Douglas Brooks, and if it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t have become a yoga teacher.
He opened the door to the idea that myth and philosophy could be a huge part of how and what I teach. He talks about myths being “lies told in the service of a greater truth.” You read these stories, and there’s something so evocative about them. It’s a way into our hearts and our minds that is non-literal. We all need a mirror, and the deities are aspects of ourselves. It’s my love of story and symbol that drew me to them, and the truth that metaphor offers to us.
KK: Is there a particular one that’s central to your evolution.
SHR: The Thillai Forest story. It’s the story of Nataraja, the dancer—and it’s the temple I go to in India. It’s a colossal story and there are many different versions, but, suffice it to say, it’s an illustration of people bringing their gifts to each another, and the creation of a dance that comes from that collaboration.
KK: And you see yourself in conversation and collaboration with your students and teachers to create that dance?
SHR: Yes. If there was one thing I learned from Douglas, it’s all about the conversation. I see myself in conversation with myself, and then my students. I see myself as a catalyst for their process.
KK: Tell me about your new online writing class 30Words30Days and how it came about.
SHR: I spent the past year writing Yoga 365. I wrote one entry for each day of the year. How did I write that many distinct pieces? I made a list, divided it up into months, and I wrote a little each day. Now I want to share the process with yoga practitioners and writers: I’ll provide one yoga concept a day, clearly defined, and several writing prompts each day for 30 days. The concept will be a word or a term, some in Sanskrit, some in English. You have 30 days to create a small body of writing, to explore your thoughts and to engage in the yoga of writing. There will be a facebook group going up shortly to offer support and give feedback.