Sharon Watts Writes

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YogaCityNYC ~ interview with Cyndi Lee

Popular yoga guru Cyndi Lee may have left New York but she still generously shares her customary brand of accessible wisdom, now in a new memoir. YogaCityNYC’s Sharon Watts got the scoop on what Cyndi’s been up to both on and off the mat.

SW: I just read your new book: May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga, and Changing my Mind. You intersperse your personal “real-time” writing with Buddhist wisdom accrued from the yoga mat and your various mentors. How did it evolve?

CL: The original title was I Hate My Body. It began as a self-help book that morphed into memoir. I realized how I was creating my own suffering by being critical of my body, and I wanted to change that. Being a meditator and a Buddhist and a yogini, I knew I had a lot of tools at my fingertips. The journey was on behalf of all women, because every woman I know, even the young and beautiful, is cutting into her own potential for manifesting fully as a loving, joyful person. In Buddhism there is something called 3-fold logic: Ground/Path/Fruition. After several years of writing and living, I finally arrived at Fruition. The old title was irrelevant. In the end, it was really a self-healing labor of love for me.

SW: Most of us want to be taught by experts, to validate our own basic Goodness. Can we find answers and inner peace without Buddhist wisdom, self-help gurus, diet doctors, etc.?

CL: You don’t have to be a Buddhist to find your Goodness, but it’s a map that’s been useful to me. There are all kinds of maps to find connection with yourself that is already there.
An old Buddhist quote goes something like: “The good teacher points to the moon and the student sees the moon. The bad teacher points to the moon and sees the teacher’s finger.” Regimens can be useful as ways to cut through our own habitual distraction.

SW: Your closing the OM yoga center on Broadway and leaving New York City this past year pretty much rocked the yoga world. But why-oh-why Ohio next?

CL: I really wanted to go “elsewhere.” My husband and I had separated, and I felt at a crossroads. I wanted to create the causes and conditions for myself to feel alive and inspired, and still growing. There I was, in a position of natural dissolving, letting go of the studio, and not knowing what was coming next. Sitting in the in-between.

SW: Were there any second thoughts?

CL: I was kind of freaked-out when I got here. There was more of a culture shock than I anticipated. I cried and thought: What the heck did I do? But I just stayed with it, and now it’s starting to shift and settle.

SW: In a way, you’ve been shooting the curl of every decade’s cultural wave: as an ex-hippie from the west coast, an East Village punk-era dancer, then a Buddhist yoga enthusiast/entrepreneur/guru.  There is a very distinct flow here that coincides with the Zeitgeist of this country. Are you heading in a new direction?

CL: I am such a classic, ordinary American woman–so much a child of my time. I did think I was a bit special until my dad died. That shocked me deeply and I started to realize: Oh, I’m not so special! Everything that happens to everyone will happen to me. My father died. My mother will die. Now I’m in menopause. And now I’m getting fatter (laugh)! It’s part of why people have connected to my teachings. I’m very ordinary. Here I am at the end of my fifties, making choices that are joyful and loving, and it all feels so natural.

SW: Can you elaborate a bit more?

CL: After being in public life for so long, I am living more quietly and privately. The yoga studio was my child, and I let it grow up. My marriage happened at a certain time in my life and that time has passed. I met a man in the course of writing this book, and that love is nurturing for me right now. One of the reasons for this is because I healed myself through the writing of this book; I am no longer embarrassed about my body. I’m in reasonably good shape but I’m not twenty, and there are squishy parts, but so what? Being comfortable in my own skin, my own mind, is what’s allowed me to have a new love. It’s all natural timing, plus a bit of synchronicity, at this age.

SW: What are three things you are most proud of?

CL: I am really proud of OM.  And of how I’m taking care of my mother, who is a major character in my life and my book. Finally, the fact that I make an honest effort to live my practice.

December 2012

May I Be Happy art

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