Christ in the Rockies recently had the unique pleasure of interviewing Mike Haddorff, director of Christ in the Rockies, and his daughter Stacy Haddorff who is actively involved with Yoga teaching, philosophy, and practice.
In Life’s Journey Part II: The Stockdale Paradox and True Identity Mike talked about the Stockdale Paradox and Stacy discussed how personal challenge builds strength and cultivates a more full sense of joy. What follows is Part III of this transcribed interview where Stacy and Mike discuss the ideals within Yoga philosophy and how those ideals relate to Mike’s personal journey, Christ in the Rockies, and Christianity in general.
The source of this transcription is a phone interview. It has been edited but has favored the spoken English of the interviewees. The method of transcription attempted to make the language readable, yet preserve the original spoken interaction at the same time.
In Part III Stacy talks about the Asanas, or postures, of Yoga and the philosophy behind them. Mike talks about how that idea relates to a mindset of living moment by moment and how, in later life, one learns to become more accepting of things one cannot control.
Christ in the Rockies (CITR): Mike, you’ve been talking about life lessons coming through pain. Stacy, would you say that Yoga is a practice where one works through pain? Some of the Yoga postures look painful. Yet the purpose of the postures, as you said before, is so that one can reach a state of mediation. Is that right?
Stacy Haddorff (SH): We come to the Yoga mat with pain, whether it be emotional or physical pain. But the practice of the Asanas, or postures, is meant to be a practice of ease. We are meant to put our body in positions that release that pain. It’s physical and emotional. There are some people in Yoga classes who are in some posture and they start weeping. It’s a release for them.
The bottom line with the physical practice is that you don’t want to put yourself in uncomfortable positions. There are challenging poses. It’s good to challenge yourself but you don’t want any pain to be produced by the physical practice.
Actually, the teacher in the class I went to this morning kept reminding us to stop pushing ourselves so much. It helped me realize how much I am always pushing myself in everything. In any of these poses, I’m always going to the max. She said to find rest in each pose. It was very comforting to hear that message. When you don’t need the effort, don’t effort.
But that’s my personality type. Other people have different obstacles to overcome. For me, it tends to be over effort in my actions. So I’m trying to detach more with my practice. It’s kind of like a mirror. I’m able to see how my mind works when I’m on the mat. I’m more aware of it and I can adjust it there. So I adjust it on the mat and I can adjust it in my life.
Mike Haddorff (MH): That is really fascinating. It becomes a practice for life, a parable. What’s true on the mat becomes how you can deal in life. That’s really cool! I like that.
SH: I wanted to read a quote about why there are all these crazy postures in Yoga and how they came to be. There are all the individual physical benefits of the poses, with the immune system for example. But this quote really expresses the emotional side of it well. The quote is from B. K. S. Iyengar who was very influential in bringing Yoga to the West. It’s from his book Light on Yoga.
When one has mastered an Asana, it comes with effortless ease and causes no discomfort. The bodily movements become graceful. While performing Asanas, the student’s body assumes numerous forms of life found in creation—from the lowliest insect to the most perfect sage—and he learns that in all these there breathes the same Universal Spirit—the Spirit of God. He looks within himself while practicing and steals the presence of God in different Asanas, which he does with a sense of surrender unto the seat of the Lord.
There are so many ways to look at Asanas but I think it is an act of worship. It’s a devotional movement. Some of the sequences are designed to be more devotional. Some are designed to awaken the body or energize it. It’s like a tailored suit. You do the Asanas that you feel you need at that time.
CITR: Mike, how would you say that the practice of the Asanas, as Stacy has been describing, relates to what you were talking about earlier about lessons being learned through pain? You mentioned the continual moment by moment practice of, for example, putting your boots on everyday and going to work.
MH: Let me go back to what Stacy said earlier. She said that we bring our pain to the mat. I think that is really key. We don’t want to create our own pain. Often times we do inadvertently, in relationships and so forth. But we don’t intentionally create pain in order to bring about redemptive suffering, like beating your back with a whip to redeem yourself. That’s not it.
It comes to us. But it’s having a place to take it. Stacy takes the pain to the mat. In a similar way, I have learned, and am learning, to take each moment one at a time. Life comes in a series of steps, “step one: place foot on the floor, step two: sit up.” It’s learning to be fully engaged at that moment. At that moment, life can be lived because, at that moment, everything is good. And so at that very moment, I have no problems. At that very moment, there’s nothing wrong.
So you can live life as a series of connecting moments. That is what it means to live pain free. I think Stacy’s Yoga exercises are a great example of that and reinforce that idea. These positions you place yourself in are like different facets of life. It’s not designed to create pain for the body, but it’s a discipline and can even be a pleasurable experience of release. I had a physical aspect to the hard time in the business that I was talking about earlier. I would come home and put on my bike clothes and I would go and climb Horsetooth on my bike.
I needed some physical exercise. Stacy would have done it through a series of Yoga stretches. I needed to go pound my pedals. Through that, when I topped out on Centennial Drive and was able to ride my bike down to Fort Collins, it was extremely gratifying to me. That was my discipline.
CITR: It seems there’s a connection here with the quote that Stacy shared. Iyengar said that the Asanas come with more ease and should cause no discomfort once they have been mastered. As one masters the discipline the discipline becomes easier. Would you say that the discipline that you went through with your biking, even the discipline of the repetitive actions like putting on your boots everyday, got easier for you?
MH: Yes. I think as one has “stretching” experiences one’s capacity grows and you have more room. You have more experience to look at things. You can say “I’ve been here before. This too shall pass.” You become much more accepting of things.
Earlier in life, it’s all about having everything perfect, everything nice. If there is one thing out of sorts it disrupts your whole life. Later in life, you learn that it’s very seldom that anything is right [Mike laughs]. You learn to smile and keep going and in that process, it becomes right. There’s so little we can control.
SH: There’s this idea called Pratipaksha Bhavanam, which is that when you’re having disturbing thoughts, you just think of the opposite thought. It’s kind of one of those little tricks. And it’s not like you’re covering up the truth because both realities are the truth, things are bad, but they’re okay at the same time [Stacy laughs]. So it’s just a mental frame of mind, developing a pure view. You’re looking for the beauty, looking for the goodness, looking for truth. That’s the practice too.
CITR: That’s really good.
MH: I think so too.
Thank you and make sure to watch for Life’s Journey Part IV: Mentorship, where Mike and Stacy continue their discussion with Christ in the Rockies.