In Daniel's Words...
I was always a bit of a cosmic child, interested in the far-reaching realms of spirituality. The household I grew up in wasn't really supportive of that, nor was I able to follow my interest and desire in expanded consciousness during my first marriage. So in many ways, I ended up putting that whole side of myself to sleep for many years.
When that relationship came to an end, my spiritual desire started to wake up with a renewed hunger. I had always found meditation to be interesting, but it was more the concept than the practice that drew me. I'm a very busy body and mind, a constant creator. I was led to yoga and found that it provided me with the perfect avenue to practice meditation because it uses the body. So, instead of just sitting and doing nothing, I could use physical postures as a form of focus. Ten billion things in the world, like the wide end of a funnel, all got reduced down to my focus on stance, posture, alignment, and breath. And all of a sudden, it was like, "Ah ha, I found it! I found the thing.”
I had a martial arts background, and was more into the spirituality of the Zen Samurai warrior and the ninja. You know, the Bruce Lees of the world. Yoga hadn't even entered my mind, and then, one sunny day, while I was at a festival, I saw a couple doing AcroYoga. I had never seen anything like it before so I walked up to them and asked, "What are you doing?" And they said, "It's acrobatic yoga." And I was like, "Wow. I didn't even know that could be an expression of yoga."
With that inspiration, I went home and found a yoga studio near me. And though they didn’t offer AcroYoga, I started taking every class I could for a full year. And then, a year later, at the same festival, I saw a different couple practicing AcroYoga. This time I felt bold enough to ask if I could join. They let me practice a couple of poses and I was totally hooked!
I couldn't put my finger on what was so compelling, but watching the man lying on his back with his arms up in the air fully extended, with his female partner standing in his hands, eyes closed, doing a slow graceful bow, well, it just floored me. Only now have I come to recognize it as a complete unwavering presence that is almost impossible to achieve in any other practice.
In a yoga class, you can be in your own world. You might look out the window or be thinking about your life. You might check out somebody else in class to see what their form looks like, and then have to bring yourself back to your practice. But in AcroYoga, you must have a singular presence because you're working with another person, often in compromising or even dangerous positions. Imagine holding somebody up over your head, they trust you to not drop them; so you have to be right there and nowhere else!
And, there's this fluid connection between the people practicing. They're communicating with each other and it's beautiful, like seeing a well-trained pair dance a tango. They're not talking with words, but they're intuiting each other's body movements and they both know where to go in synchronicity. It’s amazing.
All styles of yoga are fractal in nature- as above, so below. So, the things we learn in a yoga class translate to the rest of our life. When we stand in Warrior II, for example, and root from our waist down into the earth, we're building a solid foundation.
In Acro-yoga, that learning happens on even more levels because we’re dealing with another person. We learn communication skills and trust; we learn to surrender. We learn how to be strong yet flexible and soft. And superb sensitivity to every movement of your partner because you need to be able to micro adjust. When you're holding somebody else and they move or fidget, everything changes and you need to rapidly but subtly adjust to accommodate that weight shift.
Students can come in as complete beginners to Acro-yoga and immediately experience the benefits. It works for all levels because there are three basic positions: the base, that’s the person always on the ground acting as the foundation; the flier, that's the person who has their feet off the ground, and the spotter.
Some people who attend an Acro-yoga class never even get off the ground. And yet, the spotter is very much a part of that singular presence because they can't be looking around at everybody else or checking their phone. They need to be attentive to the partners because it's their job to make sure the flier doesn't come crashing to earth.
As a spotter, you learn how to hold space without interfering which is a subtle and beautiful life skill. Spotters are as close as possible without actually touching the partners and without blocking anybody's view. You learn how to be at the ready if your support is needed, but you're not making contact because if you do the partners can't find their own center of balance. So, by the fractal nature of the learning, how can you be there for your friends, your family, and your community without meddling, without overstepping your bounds, but be there as a supportive hand if they reach out to you?
Of course, many students do move beyond the spotting position. If you can do a one-hour yoga class at Dayaalu then you have the ability to do Acro-yoga. A lot of it is based on an inner-willingness, but there are levels for everybody. Postures can get as fancy and complicated as Cirque du Soleil moves, but if you're physically attuned to a gentle yoga class, there are postures that would fit with your ability, too. I’ve actually had some wonderful students in their 60s and 70s. For me, one of my very favorite things is watching people leave a class saying, "I didn't know I could do that."
Another aspect that Acro-yoga provides is “safe touch.” Because we are in the senses, it is sensual, but not sexual. So, this is a place where you can be in physical contact with other people in a supportive way that isn't invasive. It's very safe. It's witnessed by others. It's playful and fun, yet it doesn't cross any boundaries. We don't have many opportunities like that in society. It’s also a great practice to do with an intimate partner and can help build a romantic bond. But you can do it with your coworkers, friends, siblings, even your mom.
Acro-yoga is one great specialty that I teach. It's very physical. The flip side of that coin is the nonphysical practice. For example, my upcoming series on April 6th is called, “Meditation, Mudras, and the Metaphysical.” It’s all about providing people with a spiritual toolbox so they can develop and fine tune practices that work for them, which includes knowing when to use them.
I've been a remodel carpenter for 16 years, so tools have a very strong affinity for me. Using tools to enact visions of will into existence is amazing, and yet I recognize that the tool isn't the end result. The tool itself is not the purpose. It's the means to the purpose.
It’s the same with spiritual tools. And while practicing one form of mediation, for example, can be very fulfilling, I’ve learned that developing an expanded set of tools and knowing the appropriate time to use them has tremendous benefits. Some examples of spiritual tools that I like are the ones that act like anchors: breath techniques, mudra (hand positions), slow and gentle physical movement for directing the flow of energy and guided meditation.
Mudras are particularly beautiful and effective. There are hundreds and hundreds, maybe thousands of mudras. How many positions can you put your hands in? That's how many mudras there are! It's almost infinite, right? And the yogis discovered that each one holds a specific frequency.
I think of them as antennas; bio magnetic electrical antennas that help us to dial in to a very specific frequency. Think about radio waves and radar—all this energy is passing through us right now. Luckily, we can't feel and hear them because it would put us into complete overload. But, if we have an antenna, we can pick up a specific frequency, just like tuning into a radio station. That's exactly what mudras do. It isn’t about bringing in a whole new energy, it’s about tapping in to what’s already happening in the realm of experience, and using the mudra to hold its focus and receive the energies.
When I teach mudras, I share as much as I can about that mudra. The more you know about the layered meanings and stories, the better you can apply them in your life. A great example is Anjali Mudra—prayer hands where the palms come together at the heart center. Everyone knows this gesture the world over. Yet, this simple gesture actually has profound layers of meaning. For example, it symbolizes the very nature of duality. Two hands representing how our minds always separate things into polar opposites—good and evil, right and wrong, light and dark, male and female, hot and cold. And, when we bring or palms together at the heart, we are in an act of unification.
Another example of the layered meaning to Anjali Mudra is in the teacher/student relationship.
Without a student, the teacher doesn't have anything to teach. And without a teacher, the student has nothing to learn. So, they join in the middle. And you'll notice that when you do Anjali Mudra, neither finger is taller. They meet equally in the middle, always at the center signifying that there's no dominance. There's no, "the teacher's mightier" or "the divine is better than the human." We simply meet at the center, fingers pointed up to raise our consciousness.
Anjali is a devotional gesture. It’s a prayer of thanks and gratitude, and reverence for this existence. I usually lead a guided meditation after explaining the depth of the mudra and talking about the symbolism. In this way, the student has a multi-dimensional understanding and experience of the mudra and it becomes a more accessible and effective tool.
For example, maybe you are having an experience with another person who you feel completely at odds with. Maybe they are very different than you. They have a completely different political viewpoint and you’re thinking, “how could they possibly think this ridiculous thing?” Engaging Anjali helps you to come back to your heart center, and reminds you that no matter how different that person may seem, we’re all connected.
One of my favorite mudras, my go-to, is Dhyana Mudra. It’s the empty bowl. The gesture is putting the left palm up, and then placing the right hand (with the back of the hand) into the left palm, and then the tips of the thumbs come lightly together, just touching. It makes this little hollow, empty shape.
In practical application, Dhyana Mudra is about letting go of preconceived ideas, or your story.
I use this mudra when I'm entering a situation where I might not know what to expect, like taking a new class or workshop. Or, when I attend class expecting the regular teacher and there's a substitute instead. My mind says, "Oh, but I wanted it this way.” So, I take a moment to close my eyes and empty my bowl.
There’s also a meditative quality to mudras. When you tell the brain to hold the hands in a mudra, the position itself becomes the anchor. So, if the mind drifts, we come back to the position of the hands, how they feel, and what the mind is doing to hold them there.
There is also the physical part—the meridians and energetic circuits made when we connect our hands in different areas. Each place the digit’s touch creates a different energetic circuit that flows with the meridians of the body. Like I said, the practice of mudras is so multi-layered!
And, I guess you could say, I’m pretty multi-layered, too. I have a wide array of things to offer, from the high energy, upbeat music, and the crazy laughter that comes out of an Acro-yoga class, to the stillness and deep contemplation of a metaphysical series.
I’ll be offering a 2-hour men's workshop on May 21st. A lot of men are living with a model of manhood that was shown to us by our fathers and grandfathers. But, we live in a very different world. So, this workshop will be a safe place for men to gather and share, to bond in their authenticity.
I feel so honored and lucky that I have found a home at Dayaalu Center. I could feel it the minute I walked in to the lobby. It’s so beautiful that I can offer my gifts to their fullness, and there's receptivity for what is being offered. Dayaalu is so much more than a yoga studio. It’s truly a holistic healing hub on this island, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the community.