Shambhala Mountain Center is excited to host May I Be Happy: A Yoga and Meditation Workshop for Women August 30- September 2 with influential yoga teacher and writer, Cyndi Lee. She will give a talk and book signing in Boulder Colorado on August 29th.
Tell us about the beginnings of your yoga career and why you became passionate about the practice.
My yoga teaching career began in 1978 when I first arrived in New York City and realized that my $60 weekly paycheck from the Whitney Museum was not going to cut it. So I got a job teaching yoga at a little gym in the Village. For much of my professional dancing career, I taught yoga “on the side” instead of being a waitress like most dancers. When I met Gelek Rimpoche in the late 80s my mind turned to the dharma, and my dances started looking more like yoga than modern dance. My last concert was done in collaboration with my dharma brother, Allen Ginsberg, a long time student of both Chogyam Trungpa and Gelek Rinpoche. After that concert, I stopped dancing and started teaching yoga full-time.
My style of yoga evolved organically from my own background. I called it OM yoga: alignment-based vinyasa grounded in the dharma practices of mindfulness and compassion. After 15 years, I closed my NYC studio. OM yoga Center, to devote more time to personal practice. But I still teach OM teacher trainings, retreats, workshops all over the world and in 2012 I co-founded True Nature, a yoga and music festival based in Japan.
What was the inspiration for writing May I Be Happy?
May I Be Happy was originally titled I Hate My Body. I had an epiphany one day that my ever present inner voice, you know, that one that was always criticizing my body (too fat, too thin, too weak, too tight, too loose, blah blah blah) was a form of suffering. I had learned from my Buddhist studies that Suffering Exists and also that we create our own suffering. So I took a look at that and decided that it was not ok for me to continue to create this suffering around my body. I had to learn to let it go and to love my body. That is what inspired me to write this book. It was not until I lived the story of the book that I found the fruition of the quest and the ultimate title of the book.
Has this project expanded beyond your original intentions?
Well, when I started writing the book I did not know how I was going to turn this thing around. So finding the maitri practice as a personal path toward a more joyful life was a surprise. I also didn’t know that this book would resonate so strongly with so many people. I’ve heard from tons of people, all ages, men and women, that they have been touched and inspired by the book. So I have started teaching May I Be Happy classes and workshops and that has been very powerful.
What advice would you give to our readers on how to be happy?
Read my book! Come to the retreat!
Cyndi Lee’s newest book is the The New York Times critically acclaimed May I Be Happy: A Memoir of Love, Yoga and Changing My Mind. She writes regularly for Yoga Journal, Shambhala Sun, Yoga International and Tricycle Magazine. Her frequent TV appearances include the Dr. Oz Show; Live with Regis and Kathie Lee; Good Morning, America and she has a cameo in Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun video, which she choreographed in 1983. Cyndi holds an MFA in Dance from UC Irvine and is a long time student of Gelek Rimpoche. Cyndi Lee is the first female Western yoga teacher to fully integrate yoga asana and Tibetan Buddhism in her practice and teaching.