Thursday, August 9, 2012

Meet Zen Girl of the Month: Sarah Clark

Last month marks one year since yoga teacher Sarah Clark left her longtime home of New York City for the laid-back California lifestyle. Arriving out West with just her yoga mat and a "good plan", this Zen Girl has already made her mark on the San Diego yoga scene. Sarah is fresh off of teaching a 4-week Summer Immersion called, "Living Yoga" and had the special privilege of assisting her mentor, Cyndi Lee at Yoga Journal Conference: San Diego.

She constantly amazes me with her beauty, grace and humility - and her strong dedication to always deepening her yoga practice - both physically and philosophically. I had a great time working with her on this project....I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did! 

1) Name, Location, Occupation:  
Sarah Clark.  San Diego, CA.  Yoga teacher.
2) What does a typical day look like for you? A day in the life currently looks like some jumbled concoction of (a) teaching several classes/workshops at various local studios or in people's homes around San Diego, (b) pairing a run in my sweet University Heights neighborhood with my home practice (asana, pranayama, meditation), or taking a class and very much enjoying being told what to do, (c) hanging with my husband.  Often singing together and cooking, and (d) thinking about, gathering for, & creating delicious, mindful meals. 
Days off are often going to the ocean for walks or sitting quietly, sleeping in, farmer's markets, cooking (preferably with some nice wine or a craft beer), reading good yoga stuff, maybe a hike or the park... Oh, and laundry.

3) What is the first big (or little) step you took to follow your bliss and create this beautiful life that you have?  I took 1,000 little steps.  And I'm not sure I was ever following my bliss, per se.  I was mostly just following my feet.  I've always felt that.  Just one foot in front of the other, one thing at a time.  If I'm moving along mindfully, just connecting the dots & following the natural outcome of due diligence, everything else takes care of itself.  It's an approach that I think (a) keeps me grounded and (b) gets things done.  Even with something as audacious, lofty, and risky as picking up from a full life in New York City to move to the opposite side of the country with no promises (read: with no job.  But, with some savings, a good plan, and a strong practice).  I just follow my feet, and I trust them as they touch the ground.  I practice staying very steadied & very calm, so then I can find some equanimity, no matter what shows up on my path.  I'm never practicing escaping away to some perfect place.  I'm practicing being awake and present in my life. 
4) What is your advice to people in overcoming fear and following their bliss?  Any state of suffering-- fear, sadness, anger, etc. --  cannot be overcome by pretending it's not there.  Or by allowing yourself to be utterly consumed by it. The yoga practice encourages us to become familiar with these states, to really feel them, in manageable doses. When we are experiencing the sensations and thoughts we call fear (or sadness, anger, etc.), we should try to do so with an attitude of friendliness towards ourselves (maitri) and compassion for our own suffering.  Then, we can experience these states of fear within the context of being kind toward ourselves and toward the suffering itself - that enables a shift to occur.  And that shift is just good old impermanence.  We can experience how everything changes, even fear.  My experience is that when I can sit equanimously with suffering, it eventually changes, and I eventually see something else in there. 
You can try it in yoga poses that freak you out!  Inversions are a good go-to!  You might notice when you become afraid that your jaw tenses up, you get a whirling sensation in your tummy, your breath becomes choppy and shallow, your mind dashes into fantasies about embarrassingly crashing into the yogi next to you….But then your mindfulness practices encourage you to pause, and recognize that all of these experiences are simply sensations.  They are just feelings in the physical body or thoughts that arise in the mind – they are not YOU!  So when we can start to watch these sensations as they bubble up to the surface (thoughts are just another type of sensation in the Yogic view), then we start to put a little pause between the sensation we experience and how we respond.  That pause is the chance to make a conscious choice rather than moving from a mindless habit - like we might do if we are utterly struck by irrational fear.
So in a nut shell, kindness and compassion is the answer for me.  I recommend everyone actively practice those states with themselves!  That's how I have learned to approach my own suffering, and it always helps guide me through my experience.  And then when you get more skillful at being kind and compassionate with yourself, it makes it very natural to be that way with more and more beings.
5) What future endeavors are you most excited about?  Continuing down the endless rabbit hole that is my practice.  On my own as a practitioner, but more excitedly, as a teacher.  And simply as a plugged-in part of this community.  Having been here for a year now since my move from NYC, I am settled enough to feel super inspired by the people here;  I have a strong desire to share in yoga in a maturing, wise and authentic way.  I can sense where it is going, as I connect with more like-minded teachers and keenly open students, but there's so much to develop.  It feels potent and full of potential.
Thank you, Sarah for this beautiful and raw glimpse into your life and your practice. Your words inspire me to fully experience what is happening around me - the good, the bad and the ugly - and not try to hide from it.
Sarah has a very full teaching schedule, so if you are in Southern California, you are in luck! You can find her teaching at many of the top local yoga studios. Word on the street is she may be leading another transformational "Living Yoga" Immersion in early 2013 - so keep your eyes out for that as well! To follow Sarah's journey virtually, visit her Website or connect with her on Facebook.

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