Sweethome Teacup - an Alice in her Yoga Wonderland
by Sandra Radja
Yoga teachers in Portland certainly come true to the colour and character you would hope for. The environment lends itself to explore without restraint and encourages your individual expression. The town has cultivated quite a large industry of studios and public events in the name of promoting the OM. And true to the no bullshit arena Portlanders like to hold claim to, there is an authentic offering of true spirit seekers to be found, owning the humanness of an authentic practise.
We take a class for 90 minutes, maybe once, maybe twice a week. It moves and begins to transform us. We start to notice things we took for granted and start to perhaps feel more empathy toward others, towards our pets and then other people and a society as a whole. If we stick with it, then new opportunities may arise in our lives and new types of people to match our new curiosity. We might tap into more creativity and be more outspoken for causes we understand might need a helping hand. We might just be able to sit in a hammock without guilt or a to-do list, and that might be enough.
But no matter what, you're changed and you can't help the bleed out effect of taking that first step.
Sweethome Teacup. I don't even know her birth name. I had a momentary thought to ask it, then thought, nah, what for? She is passion and curiosity and striving and colour and wow, she just reminds you to get back on the mat. And mostly she makes you feel ok if you have a day off. She had asked me why I thought she emobodied a yogi and here are my words to her - "You're vividly present. You make people smile when you're around, things mundane light up. You really want others to feel that passion you feel about what it is to be in the breath. You're kind in conversation. You're a heart on a sleeve kinda gal. You're fun."
You're fun. We say the resonance of a name is important to align with your true self and some take on a spiritual name by guru, usually Indian, to embody the God within. Sweethome Teacup makes me smile. I think that's yoga right there.
1. Your life is yoga. You embody it from a visual perspective to your desire for animal rights and work with socially deprived parts of the community. Did your path ever wane whilst on the journey and when was the moment you fell in love?
You know when you are dreaming and in the dream you are trying to open your eyes, but you can’t (because your body is sleeping with eyes literally shut). But in the dream you are awake and want to be awake and you want to see, so you keep on trying. Well that’s me, the forever budding yogi, trying to open her eyes and even when they just won’t open she keeps trying. There are days when I fail with such skill. I am well practiced in failing. I know how to sabotage myself, I know all too well the familiar sound of the critic inside, my heart quivers for the world and still my ego quickly jumps in and says, ‘oh, that is mine, it’s all about me, why me, oh woah is me.’ But over time, and that is what is needed, the slow steeping of me in time, I have learned how to nurture my failings and kiss my small hurts and I have yet to meet a pain that consumed me completely, not yet. Each pain, however grand or small, spits me out in the end and I am stronger for it with eyes a bit more open.
When I began studying yoga I had such a desire to master the poses, and understand the process, embrace the yamas and niyamas, feel the magic of pranayama and work with the tools of body and mind. I wanted to attain enlightenment. I wanted to wake the fuck up. Yet there was a moment when I was studying with Sharon Gannon at Yasodhara Ashram in Canada and I realized that I would cultivate my life in this way even if it was all make believe, even if I never gained a thing. No magic powers, no approval, no merit. I practice because this is life and I want to be as close to it as I can with an acceptance, a love, a commitment to all others. because I am here, then you are there and we are undeniably together.
This journey is to cultivate space where there is no hatred in my heart, my mind, or my body. This journey is radical, rebellious, revolutionary, and nurtures the power to uproot ignorance with love (not hate).
There was a time when I would watch a documentary on animal welfare and the injustices of what humans have established as normal and I would collapse, fall to the ground, and cry the tears of a million suffering beings. Now, it is not that I am hardened, but rather determined and will not allow my eyes to close to my actions. I realize the give and take I must make with myself everyday and I practice forgiveness with myself and all others because the righteous path is not only full of righteous things. For example, I ate a bowl of ice cream last night. I consciously followed the spoonful entering my mouth all the way back to the source: a sweet yet sad mama cow in a pen, with a machine attached to her udder, separated from her baby, suffering the life of a slave. I have to admit, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable with that kind of awareness, but it is how I assist myself in waking up. Today I drink rice milk and hopefully will for awhile. I write a letter to a senator about factory farms and the abolition of the cruelty and slavery of animals. I enter the hard dark places to make my heart softer and my blood pump stronger.
2. In Ayurveda, sound and vibration are part of our sense therapies and can be extremely effective for those clients that have sensitive hearing as they are most receptive to the ether element. How have you incorporated sound healing in your classes?
Sound is a main focus of mine. Vacce is the sanskrit root where we get the word voice and the word vocation. Our voice and our vocation are deeply linked. We have created a bit of a disconnect because we think that our vocation is something separate from what we believe and support and want to manifest in the world. We think our vocation is about making money, but what is money except a tangent from our path; a symbol of our value and purpose. When we refine our voice may our sense of purpose in this life be more clear. May our vocation be meaningful and linked to our spirit.
In general the format of my classes begins with a talk and then I play the harmonium. We spend time harmonizing our voices together and then chanting a mantra for 5 to 10 minutes. After we quiet down and feel the stillness, I offer our efforts up to the benefit of all beings. Due to the interconnectedness of all things there is the potential for this to be so. The practice of yoga is an intimate affair yet we come together to support one another and to learn and grow from our connection. Everything in this world is related to everything else. And our voices are the gateway between our thoughts and our actions. Conversations have to do with speaking and listening. The practice of yoga inevitably assists us with our communication with the world on all levels. I would like to see my offerings and teachings to support a communal movement towards an awake yet grounded body of beings. Just like the cells that make up our bodies, we are the cells that make up the body of this world. We need to realize this and include every feeling being in our supportive nets.
4. What do you mostly teach?
My main teaching is that you are the true teacher. There is nothing but the direct experience that can be true learning. You cannot get anything from outside yourself that doesn’t yoke with something inside. What we receive is transformed by our relationship with it and then it moves through. The important question is what is it that we give? What we get is only fuel for that.
And truly, the information is not out there, it is within. Literally. The silk thread of time runs through our bones, through our blood, through our DNA, through our memories. Life itself, the true teacher tells my heart to beat, my breath to breathe. Whatever goes on in the head is folly and can create pain or joy, loss or gain, pride or shame, and it is not a fact, it is perspective, and its yours. Someone’s loss can be another’s gain. The rotten flowers are food for the seed.
The wisdom is in the seed. You have it at birth. Everything that has preceded you is here now within you yet time is needed for wisdom to be seen, for magic to reveal herself.
Our best humble attempt can be to align ourselves with the nature of things and the only way we do benefit is if we do it for everyone’s benefit due to the interconnectedness of all things.
5. An area that we try and promote in Ayurveda is awareness of the 3 body types, meaning we all come from a different genetic make up. We believe this translates to the yoga mat in what type of practise serves the individual. What is your opinion of the group class and is it a challenge to find the common denominator so that all can benefit?
Ayur means life and veda is that which is heard. Listen to life and you will thrive.
I really appreciate the trinity of the doshas in ayurveda and the seamless weavings between human character and qualities and the elements of nature and this incredible earth. Do you feel like a bird today? or perhaps a tiger, or maybe a slug. Do you quiver like the crisp leaves in autumn on a windy day or perhaps you are a deep river current with high banks and strong flow. There is no separation between what I am and what I see. (Just remember what you see may be distorted.) 3 is the number of dynamic flow. We are ever changing and at times we can be in a strong formation but inevitably it will move towards another quality especially if we cultivate and nurture it.
6. What does your personal practise look like? (yoga,food, sleep etc)
My personal practice is an ever metamorphosizing creature. Certain aspects ebb and flow and others are quite stable. I consider every moment of my day my practice (except for when I decide to fall off the righteous train and watch bad tv and have a cocktail:) My daily practice is hard to distinguish from my daily chores. I spend a lot of time alone, so self reflection and inquiry is quite a constant. I do spend time with people, animals and land that I serve. I have a small menagerie of animals I care for, a big garden, and two daughters. I have manifested a life of simplicity. I rarely buy anything other than food and unfortunately gas because I do drive a car. I ride my bike as much as I possibly can and utilize public transport. Early morning is my most productive energetic time of the day. I tend to all the animals: two goats, chickens, two dogs, and a cat, and a hedgehog. I make myself some hot lemon water and cayenne with a little honey (cuz I like sweet things.) and then I write. These are the chores that are truly ritual. A vinyasa practice, a restorative practice, meditation with a mantra, meditation on the breath, meditation on harmonizing the 5 elements, pranayama, all these practices weave in and out of my daily routine. I am the product of my upbringing. I am the bastard child, the orphan, the seeker with no obvious teacher, no lineage. Some may have an opinion about this, most I am sure, but I am who I am and I don’t claim to have any knowledge to tell anyone else how to be. It is for each of us to find our own feet and walk.
Sweethome Teacup has studied yoga since 1993. Her approach to the practice is her approach to life; devotion, awe, and loving humility. Sound plays a tremendous role in her teaching and she delights in sharing with all.
Sweethome offers weekly classes, monthly kirtans, and special workshops as well as private sessions in Portland, Oregon.
Her regular retreats include Breitenbush Hotsprings in October, Port Townsend Washington and Yelapa Mexico in November. Check out her website: www.teacupyoga.com