Posted by Gabrielle Gignoux-Wolfsohn
"There are remedies for what ails our society, but we must take control." With these words, Rick Chrisman, director of the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life at Skidmore College, introduced Shaman Ray Crist to an audience of students and Saratoga community members in Wilson Chapel on Sunday, Feb. 17.
Students and community members were invited to take a break from work and the technology-driven world for a yoga demonstration that was a part of the annual month-long competition Skidmore Unplugged.
Crist used an interactive style, combining lecture, humor and demonstration to keep the yoga class upbeat and intriguing. He began the lecture with terminology that connects the ancient practice of yoga to our modern world and subsequently offered his own analogy that yoga could be the restart button. It provides a way to improve yourself by refreshing both your mind and body. He introduced the idea that yoga is not a religion or a philosophy but a technique.
For the majority of the lecture, Crist focused on the connection between physicality and mentality and introduced the concept of Sanskara. Sanskara, he explained, is the pain we subconsciously harbor after hurtful experiences. This subconscious pain exposes itself in our physicality. Crist explained that we all carry scars, which affect the way we interact with each other and provide a negative cycle of experiences. Yet we can hit the restart button by opening our minds and bodies through the practice of yoga.
In an effort to appeal to every person in the room, Crist made the demonstration fairly basic. He did not focus on challenging moves, but rather emphasized how important and crucial the basic positions can be.
Throughout the demonstration, Crist incorporated humor and lecture elements. While the participants assumed the warrior position, Crist asked for adjectives that describe "masculinity" and "femininity." He went on to explain that in warrior pose, one opens one's body to both qualities and channels the strengths that accompany each.
While engaged in a particularly painful a variation of a squat, Crist told the audience that the name for this pose translates into "the awkward pose," or as his former teacher liked to call it, "the public restroom pose." These comments kept the energy in the room flowing and allowed the practice to be both meaningful and challenging but simultaneously light-hearted.
An air of calm pervaded the room after the demonstration concluded. Participants lingered around Wilson Chapel, perhaps not ready to move as quickly as the world outside demanded.
Crist is founder of The Jaguar Path, a yoga and shaman institution. In 2002, Crist was diagnosed with cancer. He was told that he would need a series of surgeries and that he might only have three months to live. At that point, he made a life-altering decision: to forgo the surgeries and instead to travel the world visiting various spiritual leaders and healers.
The Quero Indians in the Andes of Peru initiated him as a healer and leader. Alive and healthy today, Crist seeks to spread the power of the practice of yoga, the power of balancing both mind and body. This lesson was well received by students and community members, and is an important one to always keep in mind during stressful, study-intensive weeks.