If you’re one of those people who’s ever said, “I can’t meditate! I can’t clear my mind! I don’t have time for that!” hear Suzan Colón out.
In her new book, Yoga Mind: Journey Beyond the Physical, the magazine editor-turned-yoga teacher is your medium between dusty Sanskrit chants and warp-speed modern reality.
Turns out the poses practiced by some 36 million Americans aren’t the half of it; you don’t even have to be able to move to do yoga’s true heavy lifting. Its real power, Suzan explains to Bare Necessities, is in transforming your mind, as she found when helping a friend who was paralyzed after an accident.
By changing your thinking, Suzan found, you could change your life. She walks readers through how to do that in 30 mini-lessons, near-effortless ways of adding mindfulness to the daily grind. She breaks down each concept into woo-woo-free terms—so Saucha becomes “spiritual spring cleaning,” Pratyahara is “quiet time for the senses” and Santosha simply means “being okay with what we have and who we are now.”
Each meditation comes with an assignment, from breathing exercises to coming up with a mantra to finding ways to treat yourself more kindly. This Power Figure upends what you thought about yoga by helping you find the critical distance needed to see yourself for who you really are—not your body, not your thoughts—regardless of the last time you hit the yoga studio.
Q: How did you get to where you are now?
A: A question I ask myself every morning! I went rogue in college and got an unpaid internship; two months later, I was an assistant editor. That started my writing career. Then I went rogue on my magazine career and became a yoga teacher. Fast forward many years to becoming a senior editor at O, The Oprah Magazine and, a short time later, getting laid off in the recession. Now I’ve combined both worlds by writing about yoga.
Q: What does a typical day look like?
A: The first thing I do is meditate. Then I start thinking about my Good Morning post. I wanted to put out some positive messages when things got divisive in this country. I started sharing the spiritual tools I’d learned about in yoga teacher training, and people really responded, so I do it daily. Then I’m usually writing—at the moment, my weekly spirituality column for Mayim Bialik’s Grok Nation. After all that sitting, it’s time for yoga, dinner with my husband and a relaxing evening of movies and knitting.
“Meditation is the difference between swimming against life’s current and drowning in worry”
Q: What does meditation do for you?
A: Meditation is the difference between me swimming against life’s current and drowning in worry. It means different things to different people—it’s not all sitting cross-legged trying to make your mind go blank and chanting. I have a friend who sits with her dogs in the morning with coffee and a cigarette, and that’s her meditation. Sometimes my thoughts are so crazy I have to med-knit-tate—I focus on knitting, and it calms my mind. If you bring your awareness gently to one thing, like your breathing, or the sunset, that can be your meditation…as long as you’re not checking your phone.
Q: Is it even possible to avoid multitasking anymore?
A: I interviewed Julie Morgenstern, the organizational expert, for Yoga Mind. She enlightens people about the fact that our brains weren’t designed to multitask; when we do, our brain cells get burnt out. I know from experience that I’m far more effective when I uni-task. Doing one thing at a time is also part of my spiritual training, even though yoga instructors have to teach, keep a watchful eye on students, note the time…. Maybe that’s why I only teach Raja (spirituality and philosophy) yoga now.
Q: Even if you’re cultivating a yoga mind, when the rest of the world feels less than enlightened, how do you consistently return to a good headspace? Don’t you still want to, like, flip off bad drivers sometimes? Is it just a constant process of making mistakes and striving to do better? Isn’t that exhausting?
A: Yes to all of that. I may look like Her Serene Highness, and after 25 years of studying yoga I have a lot of great spiritual tools that can put me in that headspace of love and peace. That’s why I wrote the book—because I, Her Very Humanness, need reminders of what to do to put more good out in the world than negativity. Is it exhausting? No; being angry, both at others and myself for being angry, is much more draining.
The best tool I have is the pause. In yoga, we talk a lot about taking a deep breath, especially when stressed. A breath is a pause. In that pause, I can consider my thoughts and make choices about my actions. Sometimes pausing for a deep breath is the most spiritual thing you can do.
“Sometimes pausing for a deep breath is the most spiritual thing you can do”
Q: With practice and experience, are you basically meditating in some form all the time? Does it eventually become automatic?
A: I think most people have a couple of dinner recipes that they’ve made so often they don’t have to look at the written directions anymore. Spiritual principles are like that. You start using them, and because they work, you use them more. Over time you become so familiar with them that they kick in almost automatically. With practice and experience, we can become more mindful most of the time. Even half the time is great.
Q: Of the 30 principles you outline, what’s your favorite? Any you’re less fond of?
A: Since they all produce positive results, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Maitri, kindness toward ourselves and others, is one I rely on constantly. Even a small act of kindness can change someone’s day and lead to a shift in perspective. I think people are a little less enthusiastic about the more challenging principles, like looking at the lessons behind Samskaras, repeating cycles of behavior, or Mudita, cultivating joy about others’ happiness. But the results are so good, they’re worth the work.
“I went from unconsciously planning for the worst-case scenario to consciously planning for the best-case scenario”
Q: In what ways has yoga changed your life? How do people who aren’t practitioners react?
A: The biggest change is that I went from thinking and unconsciously planning for the worst-case scenario to thinking and consciously planning for the best-case scenario. I’m also a lot more optimistic than I used to be, and more spontaneously kind—I smile at people, talk with them and generally think people are good-hearted, even when our opinions are different. I try to treat people the way I’d want to be treated. That’s not an Eastern-based thought; that’s universal. People around me may not know I’ve been studying yoga for 25 years; they just smile back. If I can improve someone’s day, that’s a spiritual mission accomplished.
Q: Why bother trying to achieve enlightenment? What’s the point of each of our divine lights?
A: I’m so glad this is one of those light, fun, easy-breezy interviews where I don’t have to try to answer the Big Questions!
Dharma is a philosophy or a way of living in general—be good, do unto others as you would have them do unto you and so on. Then there’s Svadharma, which is what you do with your one precious life, your unique path. That’s really what the yoga tools are about: helping you get to the answer, finding out what that answer means to you and seeeing what you do with it.
For me, my Svadharma may have been to teach my friend a yoga breathing practice when he was trying to deal with sudden paralysis. My Svadharma may be helping other people find their Svadharma. If that’s the case, it’s glorious work and I’m up for it.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SUZAN
Personal mantra: These days it’s “Keep it humble.” I get a lot done that way.
Role model: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. changed the world, and they did it with peace.
Best compliment: That I’ve gotten? “I like being around you—you have good vibes.” That I’ve given? Probably the same.
Hidden talent: Starting fires.
Preoccupied with: Helping people get back to a place of being kind to each other, and at least respectful when they disagree. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia did it, so the rest of us can, too.
Craziest thing you’ve ever done: Leaving college to become a rock journalist.
Biggest risk you ever took: Deciding not to go back to corporate life after being laid off, and seeing where my Svadharma took me.
Habit you’re trying to kick: Plastic. I don’t need that single-use straw or cup that’s going to end up in the ocean when I toss it.
Best way to de-stress: Putting the phone down.
Favorite yoga pose: Savasana, deep relaxation, of course!
Go-to workout wear: I live in yoga pants. I think that’s why I do this kind of work—so I can be in comfy clothes all day.
Top shortcut: Working from home. No commute, no makeup, no shoes.
Ultimate vacation destination: Mohonk Mountain House.
Favorite book: It’s Easier Than You Think by Sylvia Boorstein.
Mood-boosting song: “Joy” by Ryan Farish.
Best advice: One of my trainers told me, “Get your ego out of the way, and remember you’re a channel.” That paved the way.
Greatest strength: I can listen.
Fear you’re trying to overcome: Giving up.
In a word: Happy.
Learn more at suzancolon.com.
Brooke is the editor of this here blog. In a previous life, she was an editor at Good Housekeeping and O, The Oprah Magazine. Brooke has written for Glamour, Travel+Leisure, New York Magazine and more. She’s into concerts, travel and her exceptionally adorable daughter and husband.