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A Chat With Yogini and Musician Suzanne Sterling

And how does your teaching affect the spirituality of yoga?
The music that I do is an extension of this yoga tradition and I also teach teach-training programs. What I have noticed is that there all these new permutations of yoga coming out and that this is as it should be. In reality, the tradition itself is not just about the transformation of the challenging poses and the physical practice. It's also something that begins to change your entire life and every moment of your life. It's transformative on the microscopic scale. One of the things I love to do in my teachings -- whether it is information about the spiritual or about the language, etc. -- is to try and make it all something that is accessible and pertinent to our lives today. Why are we doing this practice? Just to get back to the simplicity of that culture? Not really. Are we re-appropriating that culture? Not really. How far have we come from having a spiritual experience? We don't have a lot of time for spiritual communities. Yoga, especially in our culture, is a way for people to come together and tap into what's eternal. As we do that together it begins to create spiritual community. I think this is very important because we are so far removed from the cycles of nature and rituals and direct imperial experience of ecstasy and bliss. We need it badly. We need to learn to reconnect with God. I do not use that term in a gender specific manner. I just mean the divine. There isn't a way to connect to the divine that doesn't feel cheesy or old-fashioned or even oppressive. To have this form that brings us closer to the divine is a gift, because it's not attached to a lot of dogma. In my opinion, we are removing the dogma that doesn't work. In particular, we are removing the oppressive parts of the Hindu religion including the caste system. We just need the ancient wisdom. This is a spiritual technology that gets rid of our distractions and taps into the authentic and gives us voice.

More than chanting, how would you define your teaching model?
I teach people to become activists and find their voice. I straddle the world of yoga, and I am also a musician and vocalist and truly believe in the power of sound and the medicinal powers of sound to heal. I am bringing all these pieces together. There is no reason to do any of this if it is not pertinent to our daily lives. If I am going to pray to a deity, I need a relationship to that deity and an understanding. Otherwise, it's just regurgitation. Now that yoga is part of my life and I have awakened my heart, how can I service the world? I have a nonprofit with two other yoga teachers and we train yogis to put their visions into action and go into the world and do karma-yoga. In the West we get distracted. Have you had that moment of revelation with yoga?

Totally. Even the way I taste food has changed since I began practicing yoga.
That's great. The changes are immediate for a lot of people.

If you are a first-timer, how do you pick up the chants?
It's pretty straightforward with the leader singing basic Sanskrit for the audience to respond. After a while everyone gets into a trance and the harmonies begin. Even if you haven't done it forever, you get swept up in it. I have never met a person who can't sing but for some reason we are told we shouldn't or can't. People stop singing even though it is the most joyful thing we know how to do as human beings -- especially in groups. I want to bring the naturalness without self-consciousness. Singing is part of every indigenous culture; we are the only ones who don't do it. Not only is it joyful and fun, it is profoundly good for us physically. When you make the sound itself you have extra ability to clear out your body. Sound is feng shui for the body. Just as they now use sound to destroy tumors, you can also use sound to bring the body to a state of harmony with itself. Health is when the energetic body is moving is sync with itself.

And even though chanting is a personal practice, you advocate community?
We seriously lack community in Western culture. Community teaches us to step outside the systems we created and learn how to wake up to eternal truths of life. All these things tend toward growing community to people that really matter. We must learn how to collaborate. The music community is a great portal for that. Music brings people together.

And how has the festival scene affected your life?
Music and yoga is my life, so the more these festivals occur, the happier I am.

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