♥contributed by HDY teacher Jude Rowe
Supriti, one of High Desert Yoga’s senior yoga teachers and one of the longest practicing yoga teachers in Albuquerque, is known and loved for the way she weaves poetry into yoga. Supriti is quite humble about her gifts, but she holds a wealth of knowledge about yoga and poetry. A few weeks ago, I encouraged Supriti to sit down and talk about her love of poetry and yoga. Here’s some of what she had to say:
J: Why Poetry?
S: Because it speaks to me. It speaks to me in a precious way like prayer does. There’s something about it that’s very personal, that’s very immediate, that’s really very sacred- the particular poetry that I’m drawn to.
J. When did your interest in poetry start?
S: I think I loved corny poetry even in high school, like “The Highway Man,” because I love language and I love rhythm and I love cadence; that was all part of reading poetry out loud- the musicality of it; I love that. Then later on, I became more interested in the content.
J. Have you had a continuous relationship with poetry ever since high school?
S. Maybe intermittent- in college I was very excited about Garcia Lorca, the Spanish playwright and poet and the fact that he had salons where they read poetry out loud. (I was a Spanish major). He had these poetry readings and I thought, wow, reading poetry out loud, that was revolutionary to me. And then I just became more and more attracted to it in my twenties and thirties.
J. Did you ever write poetry?
S. Actually I did write poetry in high school, and I won a little award for a poem I wrote, but I never pursued it.
J. It’s more a passion for reading other people’s poetry?
S. Yes, its more a passion for sharing the immediacy of the poem with people now and having the forum to do it with yoga classes.
J. What’s the relationship for you between yoga and poetry?
S. I think its the quality of the language; it’s what I would describe as the mantric quality of poetry because the language is so intentional and its so potent; for that reason I feel like its a very high form of communication, because of its intentionality.
J. How do you integrate poetry into yoga?
S. For me, it’s really about being in the moment; and there’s something about when it works. There’s something about the choice of the poem for the tone of the moment- whether its a particular truth that’s resonating with me that I can communicate authentically to listeners or its the mood of the day. I can’t really explain it….. There’s a kismet there when it works.
J. Along that line… what’s resonating for you right now? Is there a poem that’s speaking to you today or this week?
S. The wonderful thing about being hooked into “Panhala” (see link below) is it does give you access to different poets. I’m very eclectic in my poetic appetite and I don’t have a favorite poet; I have favorite poems. And again, its that serendipity of the poem coming to me. The poem is a gift to me; its like I’m plugged in; they come to me and I can share them.
J. What is Panhala?
S. Panhala is a daily e-mail poetry group created by Joe Riley. He has a certain bias towards the metaphysical and I often resonate with his choices.
J. Do you think Panhala sometimes goes to “dark places?”
S. Dark places don’t scare me; those are the kind of places I think touch a common humanity. When we know other people are writing about them, I think it can be reassuring. Even Mary Oliver talks about death a lot, but it’s not something to avoid; it’s an inevitable part of life and so are the shadows.
J. It seems Joe Riley has been including many poems about aging lately, have you noticed?
S. Yes, (laughs) and I like that. I’m attracted to a lot of those poems. I’m attracted to Stanley Kunitz and I’m attracted to poems about getting old. Yeah, that’s ok with me- “Live in the layers not on the litter.”
J. Are you going to read me a poem? (smile)
S. I love and relate to this poem from Jane Hershfield called “Standing Deer.” The poem is about aging which is true for me in the moment.
As the house of a person
in age sometimes grows cluttered
with what is
too loved or too heavy to part with,
the heart may grow cluttered.
And still the house will be emptied,
and still the heart.
As the thoughts of a person
in age sometimes grow sparer,
like a great cleanness come into a room,
the soul may grow sparer;
one sparrow song carves it completely.
And still the room is full,
and still the heart.
Empty and filled,
like the curling half-light of morning,
in which everything is still possible and so why not.
Filled and empty,
like the curling half-light of evening,
in which everything now is finished and so why not.
Beloved, what can be, what was,
will be taken from us.
I have disappointed.
I am sorry. I knew no better.
A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.
~ Jane Hirshfield ~
(The Lives of the Heart)
J. What struck you about this poem?
S. …the content, the form, the way she played with the paragraphs, the structure….
J. The feeling of stripping away….?
S. Yes, and finding the still point amidst all our distractions, like the pause between the appearance and disappearance of the deer…..
J. How do you integrate poetry into yoga classes?
S. I don’t always start a yoga class with a poem, (I often don’t), but students think I will (laugh), and they look forward to it. I guess in the moment it sets a tone. If I read a poem during Savasana, my hope is it will help people drop deeper into their Savasana, it will release them more deeply into their bodies, into the earth, into the moment, into their breath.
J. What has been your response from students?
S. I’m often asked for a copy of the poems I read in class. I think I’ve excited a lot of people about poetry over the last 10 years. I used to incorporate music- and its the same thing. All the musicians who I love are poets like Annie Lennox, Sting, James Taylor and John Lennon- they’re all poets. Their lyrics are very poetic.
J. Who is your favorite poet in the mystical tradition?
S. It changes depending on my mood…. I love the Sufi poets, Rumi and Hafiz; there’s something ecstatic about their poetry. I’m also drawn to the contrasting transpersonal kind of simplicity of the zen poems or haiku. I love the sutra- like poems of Hanshan from “The Collected Poems of Cold Mountain.” Hanshan, which means cold mountain, was a legendary Taoist who was said to have lived in a cave on “Cold Mountain.”
J. Can you remember a favorite quote from one?
S. “Though face and form change with the years, I hold fast to the pearl of the mind.” That’s what I tried to do- I would start to memorize little pieces of prayers or two or three lines of a poem and practice them until they became more readily available, so I would be able to access the words without having to read from a book like Rumi’s “The Guest House,” or e.e. cummings “I Thank You God for this Most Amazing Day.”
J. One of your students said she didn’t really like poetry before she came to your classes but you changed that.
S. Isn’t that amazing! I know some people’s ears and hearts and minds have been opened just from hearing it and receiving it when its appropriate or accessible- there’s a shift for people.
J. Have you ever thought of putting together an anthology of poetry?
S. No, but there are more and more available because people are really turning on to poetry now. Kim Rosen has written a wonderful book called Saved by a Poem and I’m struck by how I’m attracted to so many of the same poems that she loves and writes about.
J. Is it an anthology?
S. It’s more a consideration of poetry as medicine with references to poems.
J. Anything else you want to say about the essence of what poetry means to you?
S. I’ve had this conversation in my head and it was all so clear….. (laugh)
…this kind of echos what Kim Rosen talks about- for me poetry is medicine; it heals me. It transmutes my mood. It affords me the same kind of shift that an asana practice does. If I give myself over to a poem, if the poem is really taken in, it’s like medicine and it will shift my mood; its like a mini satori- a quick awakening.
J. That’s beautiful! I think I’ve heard you say that mystical poetry comes as close as you can to describing something that is hard to describe in words.
S. There’s this great line from a poem that says something like: “Poetry like music is tending towards silence.” It brings you right to the brink of a huge sea of silence. That’s where it drops you; its like the silence after the “OM.”
S. I love this poem by David Whyte, he’s one of my favorites poets:
The Lightest Touch
Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.
In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light.
— David Whyte
from Everything is Waiting for You
©2003 Many Rivers Press