Living yoga off the mat with Karen Spitz
This blog series is a reflection on how incredible yogis are living yoga off the mat – taking the powerful and ancient principles of yoga into their world.
Karen is one of those women who literally light YOU up and the room she is in because she shines so bright. One a yoga student of mine, I (truthfully) would look forward to the moment when Karen would walk into class.
She is bubbly, effervescent almost. ALIVE. She’s one of those rare souls that just seems to OOZE an understanding that life is joy. Life is love personified.
Which is why when you get to know Karen and her story below you’ll appreciate her light even more. I know I did, and still do.
The way she lives yoga off the mat, what she is here to do, and how she is doing is truly an inspiration. Please, stop whatever you are doing and read the below. You’ve got 3 minutes. It’s worth it.
love + light,
Finish this sentence:
Trigger warning: contains themes of sexual abuse.
My yoga practice is… ever-changing. I am not static and neither is my practice. Accepting this reality makes it easier to identify what I need in the present moment and take action that is most beneficial.
To me, yoga means…. a place of connection. It is no longer the ‘thing that just happens on the mat’, it is how I treat myself and others, how I understand things, and now it is how I make the world a better place.
My experience of the mat has… been and still is one of extreme humility. I am in awe of the practice’s ability to challenge me, to show me how strong I am, how much I am capable of, while at the same time giving me unquantifiable comfort. I am deeply grateful that the practice meets me where I am at regardless of what I bring to it or how long it’s been between ‘down dogs’. It is there ready to hold me and it allows me to unfold as I need to.
The biggest shift/epiphany/moment of insight I’ve ever had during yoga was…..
The greatest gift yoga has given me is one of connection. As a survivor of early childhood abuse I lived for many years almost entirely dissociated from my body. I had a fractured, apathetic relationship with my physical being. This disconnection manifested as very toxic emotions, thoughts, physical symptoms and constant pain. Yoga opened the door to acceptance. Fourteen years on I still have to work at it but yoga gave me that feeling of deep joy in my body, the deliciousness of movement and a comfort in my own skin. Yoga has given me a home.
Quick Fire Questions:
What are the lessons you carry on a daily basis, off your mat? Connection, presence, authenticity. The practice doesn’t lie – if my brain is agitated, I find balance challenging. If I am exhausted then holding myself up is hard. It’s all there in the practice, particularly the bits I don’t want to see. And the anger that I feel towards my teacher when she makes me “do something”… it has nothing to do with her or that third Utkatasana. I brought that into the room. Being connected to myself, present and bullshit free allows life to flow through me unimpeded and that is the best version of myself.
Why are these important to you?
Because what is the goddam point if we are super-bendy, hot-looking and zen on the mat but we are an asshole to our mothers, friends and colleagues? The practice in and of itself is not the point, the real stuff happens once we close the door of the studio and are out of the world. That is when the real Yoga starts and what the work on the mat prepares us for.
What yogic principle have you translated for yourself – what, how and why?
Non-attachment, non-attachment, non-attachment – I say this three times so I remember. I have been working with this for SO long. I really struggled with this concept, resisted and riled against it [loudly]. I am a smart, passionate, engaged woman, how can I be non-attached? I thought this equated with a kind of ‘giving up’ which I refuse to sign up for. Now that I understand this as a surrender to the outcome, while I still do my bit, I feel almost comforted by this notion. Surviving trauma comes with a whole host of shitty aftermath and a lot of ‘why me?’. Non-attachment allows me to be grateful for what the trauma taught me or what I have chosen to do with it without having to be grateful for the trauma. More broadly, I don’t accept a world where we are silent about sexual violence but I understand that we can choose do our bit [or not]. How and when we see the changes we want to see, no one knows. We just have to keep at it.
What does ‘Living Your Yoga’ mean to you?
Finding my little corner of the world and starting there. Being of service, trying to do so as gracefully as possible even if it doesn’t look as glamourous as I think it should or doesn’t happen on my timeframe. Choosing compassion over anger. Staying open when I want to close. Being real, not the kind of real that makes me look good on social media but the kind that makes me feel like I am plugged into life.
Karen’s goal for 2016 is introducing 100 teachers to trauma informed teaching. See her website for workshop details