Medellin Colombia — As I sit overlooking the glimmering valley below me, my thoughts float into the ether and land in the this conversation from many years ago around prominence of nature, yoga and travel. This is a dialogue with Abby Tucker, one of favorite teachers in the San Francisco Bay Area, that deepened my connection of yoga with living world around me — a dialogue that still resonates deeply.
Please note: this post originally appeared on the YOGASCAPES blog.
Berkeley, California — I sat down with Abby Tucker on a breezy overcast afternoon, just before the winter rains poured through, unraveling the basis of her yoga approach, listening to her views on Tantra, Celtic wisdom and her upcoming yoga retreat to Scotland with YOGASCAPES called, “Into the Mystic”.
Abby brings a deep well of wisdom into her teachings, often weaving a flow of guidance that jumps from precise alignments to visual portraits of seasonal changes, speckled with just enough philosophy to get you thinking. Before you know it, you’re staring into yourself upside down in pincha mayurasana and thinking about the sovereignty, governance and state of your body.
Abby often brings nature into her classes. Darker days, cooler temperatures, and wet wintry changes in the atmosphere evokes an investigation into the flow of natural forces around us. As yogis, seeking to deepen into our present state and carve awareness into our physical and mental capacity, these subtle and sometimes very potent elemental impressions speak to us when we take the time to observe.
“No matter who you, no matter where you come, even if you live in a really densely populated city like we do, then you can have a connection to the natural world . . . We are nature. So the more we can begin to really connect to the different elements and their qualities and how they are . . . the more we know ourselves and the more we can relate to the world and to each other. As everything in the world gets homogenized theres a real yearning for that, a connection to something that has a rhythm to it.”
“To me, all the philosophy of yoga had to been born of practice, practice really paid attention to the ebbs and flows of the body, the way nature works in the body, the way energy flows in the body.”
Sipping slowly on my cup of tea, I listen fervently as Abby draws an invisible map between the natural world and our daily practice. Abby does make a clear distinction that her yoga is not of a classical yogic approach but her studies and practice comes from a Tantric viewpoint. Assessing my own understanding of Tantra, I ask Abby if she would elaborate on her views of Tantra and where that stands to classic yoga ideals.
I feel my perspective of Tantric yoga is limited. Can you elaborate on the roots and define how you see Tantra?
“Tantra is a weaving together of practice and experience and all that you are. And it’s affirming all that you are. In other words theres no part of you that’s born like less than . . . Tantra is like dive deeper, dive deeper because anything that you encounter has within it the seed of possibility of your own awakening. So in other words, the deepest sorrow you can feel, the deepest anger you can feel, within that if you can really dive into it, you can get to really the source of all things.”
“Modern culture tends to think Tantra is license to do whatever the hell you want and saying it’s spiritual and it’s not true. It’s doing things consciously, so it’s whatever you’re doing you’re diving deep into it consciously as yoga, as practice.”
Do you see that as a clash at any point? I feel like a lot of yoga teaches you to let go (letting go reactivity, of mental blocks, of suffering, of intense emotions.)
“The asana practice, really the physical practice beyond just sitting, comes from Tantra. You can’t do a practice that comes from one philosophy while holding the philosophy of another opposite type of practice. Because within you there’s going to be a chasm that comes across . . . I came within a hair’s breath of quitting yoga altogether because I kept reading all this stuff . . . now you want to get off the wheel of life . . . it’s like being completely detached. . . [These teachings] weren’t matching up to my experience of [my] body in practice or my love of life.”
“You want to practice and do everything and dive deep into things with consciousness and to engage fully… and at the same time to be able to step back and see the bigger fluctuations. So to me I think this attachment or detachment is not about cutting the cord of something but about stepping back so we can see it in a bigger view . . . If you’re in the ocean and you’re dealing with the waves and all that stuff that’s moving and flowing and fluctuating — really what classical yoga is saying is get out of the ocean. Solve your problems. Get out of the ocean — right? Whereas within Tantra you see the waves are always moving and relating with each other, and you’re relating with the other waves even if your own wave. Sometimes you dive deeper into the ocean sometimes you float on the surface of it.”
The world pilgrimage has always struck an odd chord in me. I think about Tibetan nomads prostrating in grueling subzero temperatures, I think about the romance and serenity of Paulo Coelho on his journey through Santiago de Compostela and I remember the ascetics and orange robed babas on the banks of the Ganga… Where does pilgrimage and yoga meet in Scotland?
Maybe you can talk a bit about — what is a pilgrimage?
“There’s sort of three possibilities when you go away, and you’re going to go away around yoga. It can be a yoga vacation. You can go to a kinda of a resort place and practice a lot of yoga, but it’s more tipped towards yoga as an activity that brought you there. . . Then there’s a yoga retreat. Where there’s a real central intention around the whole retreat. You’re doing really specific spiritual work . . . as a group and individually . . . where you’re taken outside the regular responsibilities of your life so that you’ll have the space to do some of the inner work that you want to do — Then there’s a pilgrimage . . . you’re going towards a specific sacred space or specific spaces to do the work and follow the path other people have followed again and again and again. Being a pilgrimage of our own souls . . . going into this path, into ourselves.”
“My spiritual path is in the earth based Celtic Wisdom. And it mirrors and threads through with the Tantric philosophies of yoga very beautifully. . . so I’ve always been drawn there . . . The connection to place as something that lives and breathes, just like I live and breathe. And you begin to create relation with place. That there are places that pulse with so much consciousness within them. Just like some people pulse at a clearer frequency. There are places that pulse with more clear frequency than others.”
You’re doing a priestess training, is that in relation to the Goddess (Celtic beliefs)?
“It’s really about studying at a deeper level, diving deep into the traditions I’ve already intuited all my life. Even as a little kid, I was making offering plates for the trees. It’s another avenue into my self and another avenue of relating into the world and into nature.”
What does a pilgrimage serve for you? Where is this coming from?
“It’s a real synthesis for me . . . it’s like an outward honoring of the two pulses of — of what rings true to me and where my practice comes from. Where my teaching comes from . . . to take a yoga trip, a yoga pilgrimage of physical yoga practices, that open up the body and open up the heart, and open up the mind, and be able to be in pilgrimage — and be in sacred spaces — know how to be in sacred spaces. Honor it all.”
Pondering a bit more, Abby adds:
“When you’re super connected and speaking from that place that is real — for me and from my own experience and something that I’ve thought about and chewed on and feels alive for me. Then, people connect to that. And so the more things that I do that are really alive for me, the better my teaching is.”