Shari Friedrichsen is a well-known teacher and key facilitator at the Himalayan Institute’s Teacher Training & Professional Certification programs. Most attendees at the festival will likely recognize Shari from one of her many yoga videos and articles contributed through Yoga International and at HI, one of the foremost institutions of yoga wisdom in the country.
She’s studied with notable teachers such as BKS Iyengar, Angela Farmer, Rolf Sovik, and Pandit Ragmani Tigunait, to name a few. She has a compassionate, unpretentious, “down to earth” way of relating which is a true testament to the authenticity of her teaching and over 40 years of experience.
You’ll have the opportunity to meet and study with Shari during the 2019 Midwest Yoga & Oneness Festival. As a bonus, Shari is also the featured speaker at the Inspiring People Series, a FREE event (open to all) at Inspire Café on Thursday evening, 7-8:30pm, before the festival. Recently I spoke with her about her background, her teaching, and what we can expect from her workshop sessions.
Shari’s yoga path began in the 70’s in Portland after a friend suggested that they try a yoga class together. The friend never returned to yoga and Shari never left! She taught in Portland and later Connecticut where she was invited to teach at HI, just a three hour’s drive.
Eventually, Shari and her husband moved back to the west coast to serve as primary caretakers for Shari’s parents, and then, after their passing, the couple devoted a year to themselves with the intention to regroup and nourish. Ultimately, the pair became full-time residents at the Himalayan Institute somewhat unintentionally when what they thought would be a year at HI ended up becoming permanent. They never left, and each now serves in their own way as an integral part of the Himalayan Institute and Yoga International team.
"I needed to find a way to do Yoga in it's wholeness..."
Shari’s influences in terms of teaching style began with her time as a student of Mr. Iyengar in 1983. She travelled to Europe to study with Angela Farmer and then studied with her in the U.S. During that time, she says, she became more interested in the mind and heart rather than the body. She wanted to see how that related. She spent a number of years studying and practicing meditation with teachers from India and going back and forth for retreats.
There were turning points that had a big impact. One, in 1985 while teaching in Europe. She came to the end of a workshop and realized that she had reached a level in her own practice where she didn’t care any more about the asana. “It seemed shallow...My mind was chaotic. I wasn’t getting what I needed from my practice. I needed to find a way to do yoga in its wholeness--not separating out pieces of it. So, I spent a lot of time on my mat. I needed to figure this out.”
She recognized that yoga could affect the mind the way it effects the body - that it could heal old emotional traumas if we had the right approach. Shari began to read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. She studied for a number of years with her teacher from India whom she credits as the one who taught her how to open up to a greater sense of the divine, which she wanted to explore further.”
She delved into the Yoga Sutras even more, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Devi Mahatmyam. As she did that, more teachers came in and started “taking me to the next step, and the next step, and so on.” Then she met Pandit Rajmani Tigunait.
"Consciousness is about vibration."
In 1999, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait - ‘Panditj’ - was on tour with his new book, Tantra Unveiled. “It’s then that I learned that consciousness is about vibration. How do I get that in the cells, in my heart, in my mind? How do I get that to heal the mind using what I know about asana, pranayama and meditation - to begin to open to the consciousness that already is within but is so layered with opinions, and ideas and doubt and shame?”
That experience and learning has shaped so much of what she describes as her focus as a teacher with the concepts of abhyasa and vairagya.
“Abhyasa”, she says, “is typically translated as ‘practice’ but what it really means is art and effort to retain the peaceful inward flow of mind.” Vairagya, often translated as “non-attachment’ is more active than that, according to Shari. “It’s the act of detaching oneself from the scars, the samskaras, the pain that colors your vision of the world and ourselves.”
“My focus on the two, abhyasa and vairagya, is about how to use both the effort to retain a peaceful flow of mind. But when you get in there, there’s so much stuff from experiences, opinions, judgements. How do you begin to undo and soften those painful experiences, so they are not coloring the view of your own self or your life? That’s how I teach.”
"TRANSFORM PAIN...SEE WHO WE REALLY ARE."
Throughout the weekend Shari will hold workshops each day, including an all-day intensive on Friday, Yoga for Transformation, in which participants will explore these concepts more experientially and delve into how we transform pain so that we can loosen the grip of that pain and begin to see who we really are.
According to Shari, that’s what yoga does. She explains that we can do it through asana practice, through pranayama, and meditation. “Access, and then increase pranic flow, and you can do that using all the things you already know but changing the focus. That’s abhyasa. Then vairagya, detaching, and seeing where you hold pain, whether it’s in the tissues, organs or part of the mind or in some part of the heart, and using what the Sutras tell us. The words are right there.”
“The Sutras say to use compassion when you’re in a bad space, use kindness when you’re in a good space, use joy when you’ve done something virtuous or kindly, practice equanimity when you do something that’s not so virtuous, but certainly non-judgment.”
Saturday’s workshops, Asana, Pranayama and Meditation, will address how to use asana and pranayama to deepen your meditation practice. “You’ve increased prana in the body, loosened the grip of pain in the body. Maybe only momentarily, but the next day you can do it again, and the next day do it again and it will have a cumulative effect. Once you’ve really got some stability in your body, through your asana practice and increased prana in the mind from your pranayama we look to meditation.
“Prana is light, and you can use that to go to the deeper source of light that is already inside of you whether it’s in your mind your heart or your body. Rest there and be nourished by the place. Not just simply doing a practice but be nourished by being in the practice, whether it’s 2, 5 or 20 minutes. Nourish your heart and nourish your mind so it grows and develops and becomes more intuitive and wise. Then you’ve got that wisdom shining through all your life.”
In Sunday’s session, Chakras: Beauty Unbound, explore the chakras, the points where nadis, or ‘rivers of energy’, converge. “If those rivers of energy are dammed by shame, fear, or doubt, for example, then the flow into that convergent area is lessened. We can address where we’ve dammed the river of energy of life and beauty. These rivers have specific qualities. There are waves of beauty, waves of joy, waves of power, waves of intention, and waves of the sublime – all of them always moving within us. Where we dam them is where we feel shame and doubt and fear, hatred and violence. We can go back to the Yoga Sutras and determine how we can undam the river.
There are two ways. The first is to increase the pranic flow to the river to break the dam. The second is the undo the dam to increase the flow. The chakras are not part of the physical body but have a powerful effect on the nadis in the body. We can unblock the things that bind the flow of beauty inside of each of us by working on it at this subtle level.
Shari will be the guest speaker for the Inspiring People Series at Inspire Café in Dubuque on Thursday, November 14 at 7-8:30 pm. This event is FREE and open to the public.
“What inspires me? I’ve realized it’s not so much what inspires me because I can be inspired by a lot, a good book, a good poem, a sunset can inspire me. But what MOTIVATES me? I can be inspired by things, but are they going to motivate me to open up to the world? To be more of myself? To be more courageous? What inspires me to do that, and then, what motivates me to do that?”
“Often times, I’ve discovered, that it’s pain. I’m sitting in pain and I don’t want to be anymore. So, I get inspired by other teachers. But what motivates me is this dullness, or this unsettledness or this pain- whether its physical, emotional or mental”.
She’ll share that wisdom during her Inspiring People Series talk along with her experiences being in India, at the Himalayan Institute, and in the world.
“I’ll share how things have motivated me to care more, to be more, to love more.”
You won’t want to miss this! Join her on Thursday at Inspire Café or in workshops on Friday or Saturday, or Sunday throughout the Midwest Yoga & Oneness Festival weekend.
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Karen Kramer is a yoga instructor and festival blogger.