For this interview, I am speaking with Cynthia Abulafia, a yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and lead teacher trainer at Yoga Soup. She double-majored in English and Comparative Religion at Tufts University in New England and she has her Masters in Nutrition. Cynthia is embarking on a new kind of psychological exploration with Dr. Jackson Ebner, a Chiropractor and Ayurvedic practitioner who currently lives in Costa Rica and has pioneered a new type of cranial adjustments combining his two skills called Ayurvedic Cranial Therapy.
Together these two senior teachers are leading a 45-hour online program on the psychology of yoga titled, “Ayurvedic, Yogic, and Subtle Body Psychology,” beginning in January of 2021. I have practiced yoga since the age of fourteen and have my certification in three different styles of yoga. As a psychology student, I realized the profound effects yoga has on mental health, the mind-body connection, and overall health and wellness. Cynthia is a dear friend and I wanted to interview her about this training because I feel that so many of us Antiochian’s are interested in the relationship between yoga and psychology. We are sitting on her beautiful secluded veranda where her Spanish style oasis sits nestled in the hills above Montecito. We are relaxed in her wrought iron lounge chairs with her legs twisted in an effortless lotus pose.
Jaclyn: First of all, tell me about how the two of you came to design this program.
Cyn: Dr. Jack and I have known each other for over 15 years since he owned and operated Omadawn, a comprehensive healing center, and yoga studio in Orange County. I taught at this studio and I think even then we both recognized a mutual passion for the subject matter and for our own self-inquiry practices. We are both very much in our purpose when we explore not only into yoga but into the way that yoga and the yoga sciences give an avenue to the self-investigator right back to the heart of the self.
Yoga is a very attractive philosophy these days, but we do not see ourselves so much as thinkers and philosophers applying ancient texts and holding some kind of academic authority. Instead, we see ourselves more like lab scientists out in the field tinkering with and applying directly our observations in the physical body, the subtle body, and the thought-emotion body to the world around us and within us.
What happens when, instead of only focusing our practice into investigating ourselves and our layers inward in a deeper and ever quieter way, we begin to turn back out to the world and take the quiet lessons of the heart into our more active lives? I like to think of this as a more complete arc of yoga and psychology that moves us through the Inward Path of the practitioner and back to the Outward Path of the divine-human.
Jaclyn: What do you mean by the Subtle Body? How do you describe that?
Cyn: It’s hard enough to describe the physical body, right?! But basically, if the physical body is the brick and mortar of the form that requires food to survive and then returns back to the earth as food, then the subtle body is that collection of sparks and curious-aliveness or deep awareness that moves through the body, as the body, and with the body, moving with the rhythm of the breath.
Like the rivers that irrigate and nurture the fields, the subtle body courses life and curiosity into the form. I like to think of the breath as the bridge between the physical body and the subtle body and find it one of the most useful practices to move the mind away from our thoughts and into our complex, beautiful form.
Jaclyn: How do you see your program as an exploration of psychology?
Cyn: All of the yoga requires at some point a study of our psychology. Have you ever noticed that there is no such thing as thought without emotion or emotion without a thought? Every single thought you have is connected to an emotional flow- in fact, people who show less emotion in their thoughts are considered “remorseless” or “dry,” and every emotion wraps around a bundle of thoughts, and if the emotion is too distant from a thought we would consider that “reckless” or “blind passion.” Just as these two forms are inseparable, so is the body: the body responds somatically to emotion if we spend some time investigating our felt-sensations. Doctors describe this sometimes as a stress response, but actually, we believe the link is much more comprehensive and full-spectrum.This link is so connected that you can easily argue that thought-emotion-body is one perceived form. Part of our self-investigation may use the ancient language of Yoga, Ayurveda, and the sister scenes out of the deep East, but really the phenomenon itself is our fascination. The heart is always speaking to us through the complex web of living human form, and we think it is our job to listen. In this way, all things return to the heart.
Jaclyn: Is there a way we can we get back into our hearts?
Rather than thinking “Why am I thinking this? Why am I feeling this? Where is this trauma coming from?,” we can begin to feel extraordinarily empowered when we see that our own heart is speaking to us in language that will shift and change and get as unpleasant as it needs to redirect us back to its home.
Cyn: There is not someone or something “out there” that causes our pain, our discomfort, and our traumas, but the layers of our own being fed by the spring of the heart. As the great poet, Hafiz said, “Admit something: Everyone you meet you say to them ‘love me.’” This is the deep truth of the heart, remind us to turn toward and turn toward in a process that requires a lot of kindness, honesty, and bravery, but that offers a reward of self-understanding and empowered peace that is the gift of any deep and committed practice of psychological self-inquiry where the mind and the heart connect. This is the Inward Path, drawing us to the heart. The Outward Path is just living as a complex and wild human that remembers the heart, the thought-emotion-body, and can live a life as rich and varied as you wish…
As you can hear from my interview with Cynthia she is a wealth of knowledge in the area of yoga, Ayurveda, and the subtle body. All of us interested in the field of psychology can benefit from this type of training. Embarking on this type of journey can be so life-changing as we often enter with a goal of learning and acquiring knowledge but the gems we uncover in our internal processing and what comes up for us on a personal level as potential future clinicians is invaluable.
Below is the link to her upcoming training: