July 3, 2013
The Deep Point of Continuous Practice: An interview with Darcy Lyon

Right away I noticed, when interviewing Darcy Lyon, her expressiveness and warmth. She has an off-hand way of revealing progress towards elusive goals like opening to greater awareness and presence through asana and dharma. For her the two flow together beautifully, and she aspires to share this perspective with her students.

In the upcoming retreat, Continuous Practice: A Living Circle of Yoga and Zen, Darcy Lyon and Zenshin Greg Fain will gently lead practitioners into deeper and deeper awareness and connectedness – an experience they hope to plant as a seed which will grow well beyond this summer retreat.

Interview by Sachico Ohanks, Communications Coordinator at San Francisco Zen Center

Tassajara2012_446-CropSachico: What do you enjoy most about working with Greg?

Darcy: Greg and I have been teaching together for three years. What I particularly enjoy about teaching with Greg is that we are a beautiful team. It’s not always easy to co-teach with someone, and Greg is wonderfully easy to work with. He brings a joy and openness and generosity to the students.

As we work, we respond back and forth to one another, integrating our comments. He knows the dharma from the Zen community so well that when I am teaching a theme around something in the (yoga) practice, he can just weave in a specific teaching that resonates. He’s very skillful at translating the dharma into what I am teaching. We completely enjoy each other as people, and I think that really makes it a very welcoming environment for our students.

We often have very sweet communities that form out of these retreats where people make connections or build friendships that are really lovely. It is very relaxing. There is a lot of free time for people to enjoy both the practice, which  usually happens in the morning and mid-afternoon, and Tassajara. There’s a lot of free time to visit the springs, go for a hike, go to the swimming pool, and just really enjoy the whole atmosphere of Tassajara, which is such a unique setting. That is a very special part of the retreat.

Tassajara2012_572-CropSachico: How do the yoga movements in this retreat support continuous practice?

Darcy: The asana helps you tune into and ease your body, and the dharma helps to ease the mind in this deep way, as does the setting at Tassajara. All put together, it’s very scrumptious.

In the retreat we are going to weave together asana and pranayama, awareness of the breath, dharma, and meditation or presence in spirit. The purpose of the asana is to deepen your presence in your body and your awareness and your sense of presence moment-to-moment in the asana, and that translates off the mat. So the goal of continuous practice for both of us (Greg and Darcy) is really bringing the sense of how are you present in your moment-to-moment experience.

Asana builds that physical awareness, and then while we are practicing asana I weave in the dharma theme. Since it is building not just a cognitive experience, but a dynamic lived experience that is internally expressed, that experience can then be carried off the mat. Greg will fold in reflections and aspects of the dharma that deepen that concentration.

Over the five days, practitioners have a lived, felt experience of deepening continuous presence in all situations. In this way, all situations are a place to practice. That five day experience can then be carried out of the retreat into the rest of their lives beyond all this (Tassajara).

Tassajara2012_591-CropSachico: How do you help your practitioners open to the retreat experience?

Darcy: Greg and I are both very passionate that practice and dharma is not something that exists separate from our lives. Instead, it has direct relevance in our lives, applies to our lives. When we are parenting, when we are answering emails, can we still notice our feet on the floor, the fullness of our breath, the softness of our belly? And so we give people concrete tools that they can carry to their own lives.

There is a whole arc to a five day retreat. Greg and I plan extensively ahead of time and then we gently wade into the retreat. We start with simple practice, gently checking things out, like gently wading into the first layers of water. As people soften and let go of some of the stress that they are carrying then the teachings go deeper and our practice becomes richer.

We really watch what is happening in the group, the dynamics of what people need, and what’s coming up for people the whole time. I check in with people every day to just talk about what we are noticing.

A huge part is that we don’t plan too much, and instead leave spaciousness for people to be able to receive the gift of being on the land and receiving what the community of Zen practitioners have made at Tassajara. It’s a special place and you can feel this when you walk on the land; so we want to make sure we don’t get in the way of what is already offered here on the land.

Tassajara2012_420-CropSachico: Before we close, is there anything you would like to emphasize for your practitioners?

Darcy: I want people to know that all levels of practice are welcome. Whether you have just started practicing or have been practicing for ten years or more, there are ways we can work with you to enhance your practice.

There is something unique about asana in its formatted awareness and experience. It’s for all levels. We have people come who have practiced for a long time, and we have newer people. Everybody is welcome. We make the practice accessible, and then everyone can bring that presence to their felt experience off the mat.

Five-day practices are a deep, substantial, grounded way to experience the deep point of continuous practice, after which you can have that felt sense of continuous practice to bring back to your day-to-day lives.

Continuous Practice: A Living Circle of Yoga and Zen runs from Sunday, August 18, through Thursday, August 22.  However, if Darcy Lyon and Zenshin Greg Fain have their way, Continuous Practice will resonate for you long beyond the close of their retreat.