A Yoga Retreat with Barbara Boris
by Hope Tarullo, MRO
Zen Mountain Monastery News
The Mountain Record, Fall 2006, page 104
I have never liked yoga. Over the years I have taken a number of classes, but always found them dissatisfying. The exercises themselves felt good, but I didn’t care for the teachers. They talked too much, didn’t give any individual attention, or weren’t grounded enough. Overall they were far too new-agey for my taste, and that, coupled with yoga’s extreme popularity, has made me suspicious of it. Nevertheless, I decided to take Barbara Boris’s workshop, “Gate of Ease and Joy: Yoga Asana and Zazen.” The question of my body—what it is, where it is, whose it is—had been becoming more and more urgent for me, and it became clear that I needed to really take up body practice to explore that question.
Barbara, who has studied yoga for nineteen years and travels to India annually to continue that study, teaches in the highly precise and rigorous style of Iyengar yoga. The workshop was specifically aimed at practitioners, with its departing point being the way we place ourselves on our cushions. The first part of the retreat followed the format of a traditional yoga class. Barbara worked with us through a series of poses that continually drew attention to the energy of our bodies. By having us take the same pose with, for example, loose elbows versus straight elbows, she showed us the difference that such small changes make in the type of energy we feel and communicate. During the second part of the workshop, we focused more specifically on the posture of zazen. Using our cushions, we began by sitting as we normally do, but paying special attention to where we put our bodies. Then Barbara took one of the participants as an example and made very small adjustments from her head to the base of her spine. The participant’s posture after the changes was clearly easier, quieter, lighter. We then each took up the same points as Barbara walked among us, making small changes to each of our bodies.
The success of the class for me hinged almost entirely on Barbara. A tall woman with long black hair, she exuded strength and confidence, yet she was entirely approachable. Throughout the workshop she offered continuous feedback to the participants. When she wasn’t demonstrating a pose, she was kneeling beside someone, listening and making the appropriate adjustments. There was much give-and-take, so that if felt less like a class and more like a workshop, in that we were all working together to open further to ourselves, to our bodies, and to each other. Hers was a hands-on, non-theoretical approach which emphasized the individual’s body as the first and foremost reference point for that work, rather than a yogic philosophy or system. I continue to use the exercises Barbara taught us as a platform for exploring my own body, the inevitability of my own physical existence and the large, large question of what exactly that is.
Hope Tarullo became a MRO (Mountains and Rivers Order) student in 2005.
“Gate of Ease and Joy: Yoga Asana and Zazen”
will be offered again at Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York.
June 16-19, 2011
Contact ZMM directly to register:
Zen Mountain Monastery
P.O. Box 197, Mt. Tremper, NY 12457
Tel. (845) 688-2228, FAX (845) 688-2415