June 19, 2013
In Alignment: Zen Center and ZaZEN Create Zen and Yoga Program

An Interview with Tyler Krupp and Anna Malo
Article by Kogan Sheldon

I didn’t know, when I delivered our program flyers to the ZaZEN site on Filbert Street, that I was entering an early 20th-century stable (1906). The vintage space has been reworked over time and is now a welcoming haven for people seeking a way to be well in body and spirit. A low-key wooden sign outside says, simply, “YOGA.” zazen_ad_x350Inside, friendly faces offer tea to a visitor. Over on Hyde Street, ZaZEN creates a similarly peaceful and comfortable atmosphere. This is the world of Tyler Krupp, now opened to San Francisco Zen Center as an additional practice space. Tyler can also be found frequently at City Center, where his steady, low-profile practice supports all of us as we continue in the effort and no-effort of Zen.

Under the newly formed partnership with ZaZEN, Zen Center is able to offer a slate of Zen and Yoga workshops, which began this month and will run through October. The next one, Liberation in the Details, is coming up on June 23, ahead of two others in July.

Tyler joined Zen Center Program Coordinator Anna Malo and me this week for an interview about zazen, ZaZEN, and how the recent partnership with Zen Center reflects an alignment of visions.

Kogan: What is ZaZEN?

Tyler: In a narrow sense, ZaZEN is a wellness studio. We have two locations in San Francisco—lower Nob Hill and Cow Hollow—offering bodywork, yoga, meditation and sensory deprivation floatation. We offer these practices as ways of cultivating calm centeredness, spaciousness and embodied meditative presence. Our practices are a way of stopping—of breaking from habitual conditions and interpretations of the world, a way of opening up space for a free, joyful, affirmative relation to the world as it is. In a broader sense, ZaZEN is a social experiment of sorts, attempting to bring together practices that we hope will deeply change the lives of our communities, clients and staff, as well. And then we offer daily zazen. We call it zazen, but it’s not really zazen by your standards. We offer daily seated meditation.

Anna: Why would you say it isn’t regular zazen? Do you face the wall?

zazen_floor_x350Tyler: It depends on who’s there. Most of the people who come have no experience, and sitting at the wall is a little harsh for most of them. So if new people are there, we often just have them sit however they’re comfortable. Some face the wall, some face the middle. Actually, even when [SFZC priest] Susan O’Connell comes, she has people sit however they want. It’s really interesting.

So I guess what I’m saying is that we don’t really have the forms that you would expect. But people sit for twenty or thirty minutes.

Kogan: How did a partnership between ZaZEN and the San Francisco Zen Center come about?

Tyler: Some time ago, ZaZEN was looking to add meditation to our daily offerings. We sent an email to over 50 Buddhist organizations, asking for assistance in establishing meditation offerings. [SFZC priest] Valorie Beer was one of two people who responded to that request. For nearly eight months, Valorie offered twice weekly zazen at our Hyde Street studio.

Our partnership with Zen Center started I guess with Valorie’s initial commitment, really with her gift to us. Ever since, our partnership with Zen Center has grown. We’re always astonished by the generosity and good will of the Zen Center community. Paul Discoe [disciple of Suzuki Roshi] generously donated beautiful materials for our new Cow Hollow studio. [Former and current] Zen Center residents Sofia Foreman and Sandra Lamerson teach regular yoga classes at our studios. Susan O’Connell and [Zen Priest] Jared Michaels have offered regular zazen sittings at our Cow Hollow studio.

“We’ve learned there is a real demand in our neighborhoods for what Zen Center offers. … I like to think that through this partnership Zen Center is expanding its reach, affecting the daily lives and habits of more people.”

The Zen and Yoga workshops specifically came about through an ongoing conversation with [SFZC Programs staff] David Zimmerman and Anna Malo. We were looking for ways to bring together the practices of Zen meditation and yoga in our studio, for our clients and staff. Zen Center was looking for an appropriate space to regularly offer yoga workshops in the city. We seemed to be a good fit for each other.

The partnership makes sense in so many ways. Zen center has such a wealth of experienced practitioners, teachers, and programs. We’ve learned there is a real demand in our neighborhoods for what Zen Center offers. People want to practice regularly, but not everyone can commute to City Center or Green Gulch. I like to think that through this partnership Zen Center is expanding its reach, affecting the daily lives and habits of more people.

Kogan: Tyler, would you be willing to share something about your Zen practice—your “way seeking mind”?

Tyler: I suppose an adequate account would require that I make sense of myriad causes and influences beginning at birth, or earlier! The shorter story is that I found my way to Zen practice through Valorie Beer, who is now City Center’s ino. I met her at a time when I was suffering and my ways of dealing with that suffering weren’t working particularly well.

Sitting regularly with Valorie, I began to see and feel different ways of dealing with this suffering. Valorie seemd to intuit what I needed and masterfully shared her practice, her way of dealing with these shared sources of suffering. Through Valorie I was introduced to the broader Zen Center community and practices. I’ve benefited greatly from Zen Center’s regular Saturday offerings, from the EPP program (Establishing the Path of Practice), from occasional meetings with [SFZC Head of Practice] Rosalie Curtis and from the remarkable online audio library of dharma talks.

Kogan: In what way do you see Zazen’s partnership with Zen Center affirming your practice intention?

Tassajara_1304-508_x350Tyler: Our partnership with Zen Center affirms and supports our practice intention in many ways. One of our intentions is to bring together the practices of yoga and meditation in a coherent way. The Zen and Yoga workshops do this really well by pairing an experienced yoga teacher with a Zen priest. At these workshops our clients and staff begin to see how a yoga practice can support meditation practice, but more interestingly, how the boundary between the two practices can be erased, how yoga can be practiced as a form of meditation.

Anna: Yes, when Tyler created this offer for Zen Center, we went to look at the space and realized it would be a perfect partnership, because his vision of what we could offer there  and our vision of what we wanted to offer were in perfect alignment. So we decided to work together, inviting teachers from Zen Center to work with some of the yoga teachers we have relationships with.

Kogan: Anna, what have you observed about the increasing involvement of Zen practitioners in a form of yoga or other body practice?

Anna: We have had a growing understanding of the need to prevent physical injury caused by extended sitting. The yoga in itself can develop an awareness of stillness, but not only that—it can be the practice of creating a body that is best suited for sitting.