My interview with David Welsh about the awakening practice of yoga was so enriching. I'm grateful for the opportunity to share it with you here!
David Welch: This Awaken interview is with Sarah Finger, the wife and partner of the legendary yogi, Alan Finger. Sarah is a very adept Yogi in her own right.
If you don’t mind Sarah, would you share a little of your background.
Sarah finger: Well, I was raised a gymnast. So I did gymnastics. I realize now when I look back on it, that the gymnastics was my Yoga. Going on the balance beam was very much one pointed focus for me. Tuning all of the senses out and drawing back in. Moving away from any outside distractions so that I can focus on one thing at one time. Mind focusing…laser beam focus…flipping and going upside down…sort of altering my consciousness. For me, it was a way of moving beyond my mind, to a different state of awareness. So that was sort of my beginning of Yoga. I didn’t realize it was Yoga at the time.
I really started practicing more devotedly after I graduated from college. I moved to Taiwan and I lived there for three years. And I actually started at a Health and Fitness club and started doing Yoga. And it was very different in Taiwan. The teachings were…they blended a little Chi Gong and Tai Chi into it. And it was kind of more calisthenics. The teacher—because she saw that I was adept—she would have me lead the class in some of these postures that we did. So using Chinese, I would count from one to eight and do simple exercises with the breath and with movement. And really, it was not something that I thought about very rationally or cerebrally but I realized I wanted to learn more about Yoga after studying with this teacher. I, of course, didn’t realize the depth of what I was embarking on. And I decided I would come back to New York from Taiwan. This was in 2003. And I would come back and do my Yoga certification.
So I kind of shopped around at some different studios. There weren’t as many then as there are now. I was taking classes and I had moved back to Long Island where my parents lived. And I was taking classes at a studio called Yoga Zone that was founded by Alan. I was going through a lot of reverse culture shock. I coming home…didn’t really feel home, having lived in another culture for so long. My friends were not the same friends anymore. The things that I valued were different. But as soon as I stepped into this Yoga class, I felt at home. It was the first time I felt I had connected with something that was familiar to me, that was familiar to my spirit. And I knew that was the right practice for me. It was an Ishta Class.
DAVID: How do you spell that?
SARAH: Ishta. So that’s the name of our studio and that’s the name of the Yoga that Alan Co-Created with his father.
DAVID: What is Ishta? I know it is the integrated science of Hatha, Tantra and Ayurveda. So what does that mean? What does it look like?
SARAH: It’s a mouthful. So Hatha is really the physical practice of Yoga. When we say Hatha we mean the umbrella of the physical postures and how they balance the nervous system, the physiology, the physical body. So, any kind of practice that integrates the physical postures is Hatha Yoga. Tantra basically comes from two words. Tanoti that means to expand and triati, which means to liberate. And so Tantra is the science of expanding and liberating your consciousness. It’s a non-dualistic science that sees all of matter as a manifestation of this unbound field of potential that we are all born from. And so Yoga and the practice of kriyas, which is the merging of the consciousness at the base of the spine to the crown of the head, Shakti to Shiva, is the practice of moving back to what Alan calls the state of singularity.
So when we look at the cosmos, we see that from a black hole, things manifest. And then galaxies and stars…they fall back into a black hole. And at a microcosm, we do that as well, right? We are born out of nothing. And basically, a single cell splits. And then life over time, after splitting and splitting and splitting, manifests and we become beings on this material plane. And eventually, when our Karma and our life are done, we are finished and we go back to this black hole. In a nutshell! So Tantra is really the practice of tuning back into that field of inspiration that is all around us. So we use that in meditation techniques, kriya techniques. And it’s also coming from this approach that we are all born from this divine essence, and really, the practice of Yoga is returning back to that there is nowhere to get to. There is not anyone outside of you that really has the power to shift and transform you. It all comes from within, so that you can see very explicitly in the way that we teach, in the way that we introduce the postures.
In our teacher training and everything, we’re really constantly reminding our students and ourselves that the power comes from within. Inside is where the divine is. It’s not outside of us. So that’s tantra. The Ayurveda comes from two words, ayu which means life, and Veda, which means science. So it’s the science of life. And it’s traditional Ancient Indian science that sees all beings…as this combination of these biological forces of nature or of life that makes us up. And those are called the doshas. So there is the kapha dosha, which is the combination of earth and water, which you can see in the physical body and the mucus and the bones. And then there is the pitta, which is fire and water, which we can see in the acid in our body…digestion…how we break down matter and turn it into waste. That’s the pitta dosha. And then vata, which is the combination of air and space, which of course, we can see in our breath and our pulse, so it’s like movement. And so, we each have a combination of these three doshas in our makeup.
And two of those doshas are the most dominant, and that makes up what is called our prakriti or our nature—what we are born into. So my nature is pitta vata. I have a combination of fire, water, air and space. So the different qualities of each dosha can be manifested in your physical body. Your personality traits, and the way that you breath…different foods that you eat. But what happens is, because we are exposed to different environmental factors, our prakriti, our nature, our constitution, becomes imbalanced. And that’s called your vikriti. Your vikriti is your condition. Okay, for example, I live in New York City. It’s a very busy city a lot of movement. The city that never sleeps….which just tells you it has a vata imbalance. Nobody ever stops. We’re constantly going, constantly running. It’s summer time, so it’s hot. So then the pitta increases. So, the Ayurvedic Practitioners knew that through diet and through breath and Yoga, physical postures and meditation, we can affect our imbalances.
So, our vikriti matches your prakriti. So, when we’re teaching the Yoga practice that is taken into account in how we look at people.
So, that’s how we look at different people and different vatas in the room. So not every posture, the process, isn’t always cookie cutter. What worked for one person and their constitution, might not work for another person and their constitution.
DAVID: It could be said that Global Warming and a lot of the challenges Mother Earth is going through is because the planet is out of balance. Basically, the masculine is running amok. So how do we bring the planet back into balance? How does Yoga help with the balancing of the masculine and the feminine? I think you have partially answered that but I’d like a little more.
SARAH: That’s a really good question. When I think about these things on the global level. How can we, one tiny being, affect this greater consciousness? And I think it comes back down to that quote. It’s something like “Once I was foolish and I tried to change the world…and then I was wise and I changed myself.” So really, the only way we can affect the greater consciousness is to understand the truth of who we really are, and recognize our greatest potential…and that we are in nature, unlimited and unbound. And to pull from another quote that I really love, which says, “When you elevate your own consciousness, you automatically elevate the consciousness of others.” Just the presence of people who are naturally elevated in their own consciousness can help to create that shift and shine the light on other people, to then practice their own path to self-realization.
I am continually on the path of self-study. Self-changing. Self-growth. Self-evolution. Recognizing where my vulnerabilities are. Recognizing where I have room for growth and to be more loving. And the more I can be loving, especially to my self—because I think that is really the biggest challenge. Then I feel I can affect on a much greater level. And I think it’s the same thing for something like global warming. Because that lack of self-love is what creates the need for grasping and clinging and wastefulness. There’s not enough…there’s not enough. But when we can tap into our own abundance, I think we realize that we have everything we need and there isn’t a need to cling.
DAVID: How does Yoga help us to Awaken to higher consciousness?
SARAH: It’s kind of like, how doesn’t it?…you know what I mean? I think that, really for me, the power of Yoga is…and I love that word, “awaken” because it is an awakening…an opening up of your eyes to become aware…even strictly on a physical level, like, take a posture, like Warrior 2 or Mountain Pose. And I call Mountain Pose “Standing with Awareness.” It’s Standing with Consciousness, which is very different than just standing because you might be collapsing your spine or rounding your shoulders or locking your knees. You might have a habit that—when you’re not awake, right?…or conscious—you do. And that leads ultimately to degeneration or injury or whatever it might lead to.
But when we stand with consciousness, with awareness, we become aware that we are holding ourselves up and we stand more aligned. And then when we stand more aligned, we are more in our power. In our center we can communicate better. We can hear better. We can make decisions that are from this centered, balanced place. So just on the physical level, Yoga awakens these parts of our body that we might not have known about, that we might not have been able to shine a light on before. And it creates a different understanding of those pockets that we hide behind. And it does that also through our breath. Becoming aware of our breath. Becoming aware of our thoughts. Becoming aware of our habits. Becoming aware of all of these things that in our daily life, when we’re not really in our practice of yoga, are in the darkness, in the shadow.
DAVID: Why is the daily sadhana, or spiritual practice, important? Why is it important to do it every single day?
SARAH: Well, I think we’ve seen in neuroscience how the brain has plasticity. It’s called Neuroplasticity. And that means that the more we fire neurons in the same way, over and over and over again, the easier it is. They say that neurons that fire together, wire together. So, when you continually have a certain thought or habit and repeat it over and over again, it basically becomes your reality. It becomes your habit. It becomes your way…of viewing the world or brushing your teeth. Or, the way you walk to work all of these things. So, when we have a daily sadhana, practice, it’s basically creating these neuro-pathways in our brain, which are firing in a certain way that hopefully are creating a sense of peace…and creating a sense of self-acceptance…of loving…of all of these habits that we need in the world. They’re very necessary to have a peaceful, meaningful life.
DAVID: My last question is… Is there anything else you would like to share with our Awaken community?
SARAH: Yeah. I think just like…the path of study. I feel like, when you are awakened, you recognize who you really are…the truth of who you really are. I’m going to pull back to another Rumi quote because I really love Rumi. “ You are not just a drop in the ocean, you are the entire ocean in one drop.” And the more we can move into the state of self-realization…knowing who we are. The more we can give other people the same opportunity…give them permission to also grow and elevate. I feel like, in my path of being a teacher, what I’ve realized is, I’m always a student. That path of being a student never ends. And I don’t want it to end because once it does, I’m no longer awake. The awakening ends once we stop the path of being a student. So, I guess that’s what I want to share.
DAVID: Thank you very much. You are obviously a very powerful teacher. And the world needs more women who are role models. I thank you so much. What a great partnership you have with Alan and what a synergetic relationship that is doing so much good in the world.
SARAH: Thank you, David. It’s really an honor to share this…letting us share teachings and our reflections.