If you want a deeper look into the Yama, “Ahimsa”, one of the most important moral values in Yoga, you should meet that woman ! Tamar Samir is an Advanced Certified Jivamukti Yoga Teacher based in New York.
Tamar began practicing Jivamukti Yoga in 2001 and has been teaching at Jivamukti Yoga School in NYC since 2007. In 2010, she co-founded Nava NYC, a collective of 9 yoga teachers offering yoga and meditation in the workplace. Through her association with The No Impact Project, Tamar has been leading No Impact Week, a weeklong “carbon cleanse” that empowers citizens to make choices which better their lives and lower their environmental impact.
When many people hear the word Yoga they think of a form of exercise. However, a yogi, by definition, is someone who strives to live harmoniously with the Earth. Transcending ourselves, we contribute to spreading peace in the World. The individual and the world are not two different and separate phenomena. They are one.
And Tamar encourages us right there: in self-transformation there is world-transformation !
Interview by Armanda Dos Santos
1. Dear Tamar, could you explain the kind of Yoga you do practice, and what is your background ?
Tamar Samir: I practice and teach vinyasa yoga in the Jivamukti Yoga tradition. I’ve been practicing yoga since 2001 and teaching since 2007. I was drawn to the Jivamukti Yoga practice because of its emphasis on creativity, yoga philosophy, and ethics. My background is in design and I teach multi-disciplinary design at Parsons in New York.
I have been vegetarian for most of my life, and since encountering Jivamukti I’ve become vegan. Veganism and environmentalism are the most important aspects of my yoga practice, as a direct expression of the principle of ahimsa, non-harming.
2. Why is Jivamukti different than others yoga centers ?
Tamar Samir: I believe Jivamukti is one of a small number schools that speak openly about food choices as an integral part of the practice of yoga.
3. Which goals do you try to achieve with your students when teaching ?
Tamar Samir: In teaching, my goal is to create a unifying experience. I would like students to experience a sense of interconnectedness. Everything I do in class is designed to lead towards that unifying experience, to the best of my ability: Sanskrit mantra chanting, philosophical /poetic themes, a sequence that builds methodically, music that supports and uplifts, calm language and tone of voice, a balance of effort and relaxation.
4. More than a teacher your are also a “Nature activist”. Tell us more about your connection with Mother Earth.
Tamar Samir: Environmentalism is an expression of ahimsa, the principle of non-harming. Around 2009, I saw photographer Chris Jordan’s photos of the dead bodies of baby albatrosses with their stomachs full of plastic. These birds were found on Midway Atoll, remote islands 2000 miles away from the nearest continent. The baby birds had starved to death because their tummies were full of plastic objects they had eaten. Seeing this and other examples of how animals are tragically affected by humans’ mass consumption awakened me. Taking care of the earth became very tangible and important to me.
Designers are responsible for creating the stuff that we all consume and throw “away” so casually. Actually, there is no such place called “away”. Our trash goes somewhere, and affects many beings. I became interested zero-waste living and came upon Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man. His writings inspired and influenced me greatly, because he draws upon his spiritual practice of Zen meditation as the basis for living sustainably. I became involved in his organization, No Impact Project, was trained as a “No Impact Leader”. I have led multiple No Impact Weeks in New York. (No Impact Week is a weeklong ‘carbon cleanse’ that empowers citizens to make choices which better their lives and lower environmental impact). More info at NoImpactProject.org
5. How Yoga can deepen our connection to the Earth ?
Tamar Samir: The foundational practice of yoga is ahimsa, the practice of non-harming. It’s an active practice that you constantly refine and deepen, and that makes it infinitely beautiful and interesting. Obviously, if we wish to reduce harm, then we don’t want to harm other beings, any other being. Taking on the practice of ahimsa leads to self-reflection, and ultimately we refine our relationships with everyone and everything.
6. Today it seems that almost everyone is aware of how human activity is harming our planet. We do recycling, driving less, buying “green” products… Can we go beyond ? If so, can Yoga help ?
Tamar Samir: The drawback of some of the current environmental strategies is that their goal is to reduce environmental impact. Their goal is to “be less bad” for the earth. A more visionary approach was outlined by Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart in their book Cradle to Cradle: Redesigning the Way We Make Things. They say that “the ‘be less bad’ approach is a failure of the imagination…a depressing vision of our species’ role in the world. What about an entirely different model? What would it mean to be 100 percent good?”
Another hero of mine, Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd, says that “intelligence is the ability of a species to live in harmony with its environment”. I believe humans have the innate intelligence to live in harmony with the earth. We’ve just forgotten, as we’ve been swept away in this culture of consumption.
Yoga helps you slow down and listen inside. External possessions become less important. In the early days of my environmental awakening, I gave away my TV. I think that is a helpful step for anyone seeking to awaken, to stop the brainwashing effect of mass media.
Looking at your food choices is very important. You cannot call yourself an environmentalist and still eat meat and dairy. Reconsidering food is the key to unraveling the mess that humans have created. A vegan diet is the most environmentally conscious, healthy, and compassionate choice.
There is no such thing as humane killing or cruelty-free milk. These are rationalizations that humans make in order to take what has not been freely given. A yogi sees all beings as equally deserving of freedom, happiness, love, and family.
7. Could you explain the meaning of Gaia ?
Tamar Samir: An inspiring commentary on our relationship to the earth in yogic terms, written by my teacher, Sharon Gannon, the co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga: “Asana means seat. Seat means a connection to the earth. Earth is made up of a a vast multiplicity of being. This includes all human beings, animal beings, plant beings, water beings, air beings; all of life. Patanjali says for those who want yoga, their relationship to the earth, to life itself, to all others, should be mutually beneficial. It should be based on sthiram and sukham. Steadiness and Joy.”
8. Yoga helps to transforming the Inner and Outer Environments. Should we say that Yoga is an “ecologist philosophy” ?
Tamar Samir: You could say that yoga is an ecological philosophy, because it seeks to awaken interconnectedness, peace, compassion – this is our natural state, our true inner environment. That’s encouraging because it means that no transformation is needed. We awaken to our true nature through the practices of yoga.
9. Can we pretend that Yoga can help to transform culture and societal structures ? If so, why and how would yoga make a difference to the world?
Tamar Samir: Yoga can certainly help transform culture and societal cultures. Yoga is an inner revolution that starts on an inner, individual level, but our individual thoughts, words, actions affect everyone we come into contact with, so potentially, our yoga practice has a very widespread effect. Our world is so interconnected today. Everything we do makes a difference. I have heard from many people that they have been inspired to go vegan and live more environmentally, inspired just by my FaceBook posts about animal rights and the environment. Often, these are people I’ve never met and I don’t know if they practice yoga asana. Living consciously and harmoniously with the earth is a form of yoga.
10. According to you, what is the future of Yoga?
Tamar Samir: Yoga is always now, in this moment.
Thank you !
Interview by Armanda Dos Santos