Stretch Tips and Truths From a Navajo Yogi Navajo spiritual teacher and yogi Tony Redhouse shares wisdom from the traditions that have shaped his life of balance and service. By Helen Avery Tony Redhouse. Photo courtesy of Beth Forester Tony Redhouse is a Native American spiritual teacher and healer. He is also a yogi. At the age of six—adorned in a headdress, drum in hand, and bells on feet—Tony stepped onto a stage to represent his father’s culture. Since then he has danced and played music to share inspiration and wisdom from Native American teachings, such as the Eagle Dance, which speaks of finding balance, letting go, and fulfilling the circle of life. “From the eagle we learn that we have to leave our comfort zone in order to make the journey towards the truth of who we are, and towards peace,” says Tony. It is a journey that he himself has taken, but it has not been easy. Raised in the city, Tony says he found it difficult to make the adjustment from the Native America culture of his family to that of the society around him. By the time he was a teenager he was already dependent on alcohol and drugs, and, at the age of 14, Tony was admitted to a mental hospital and placed into foster care. For 36 more years Tony struggled with addiction and depression, costing him several marriages and a period in prison. “It took a long time, but I knew I had to change. There was always this inner voice calling me back to the truth, and finally I just surrendered to it completely,” says Tony. And things did change. “At the end of this circle, the story that will be told will not be of our successes in the world—but rather of the lives we touched.” Tony, now 59 and living in Arizona, works in rehabilitation centers helping those on the road to recovery. He also works in hospice—helping souls to transition at the end of their life— and with cancer patients—incorporating art, drumming, and music as a healing technique. Since kicking addiction and entering recovery, Tony has recorded five solo albums of Native American healing music, and has worked with kundalini teachers and musicians, Snatam Kaur and Dev Suroop. “I’m not just free from addiction, I’m free from fear. I live knowing with all my heart that love is the thread in everything, and that we are here to help each other,” he says. “But we cannot reach out to others and create universal harmony until we have found personal inner balance.” Inner Peace Through Practice Tony began practicing yoga several years ago in order to help him maintain flexibility for dancing, but soon recognized it as a means to achieving that personal inner balance. “Whenever I would hold child’s pose or lay in savasana, I would return to that familiar spiritual state. That moment of ‘Ah… This is who I am’.” “It is realizing this harmony with all of life and the universe that in Native American culture we believe to be our purpose—for our hearts to beat in unison with the heart that beats in every bird, every rock, every tree, every animal, and every star,” Tony says. Now a yoga teacher, Tony has created a Native American spirit and yoga class to bring the wisdom of the two traditions together. He guides his classes through the Four Directions, and the circle of life, starting with birth and blessing in the east, and ending with the surrender of savasana in the north: “The place of the ancestors,” he says. Using hoops, he demonstrates the interconnectedness of all life, while the drum is sounded to connect to the universal heart beat. Tony kindly shared with us his teachings which draw from these two paths. Joining Breath with Heartbeat “In Native American wisdom, the breath is our individual soul, while the heartbeat is the life force in everything. When we connect the breath with the heartbeat—our soul with the life force—we become one, and experience a healing. This is often why we feel so peaceful when we practice yoga; we are bringing our movement and heartbeat in line with the breath. Using music can also help bring us to this point of harmony. The drum resonates with the heartbeat, while the flute represents the breath.” Drumming in savasana. Photo by Kollin Lockamy. Being Still “If we wish to live with one foot on the Earth and one foot in the Heavens, then we must learn to master being still. By being still, we begin to stop thinking, and start feeling, and we become in tune with our inner wisdom and guide—the part of us that can walk into a forest and see a flock of birds emerge and know that there is bear up ahead. As humanity has distanced itself from nature, we have become analytical about this simple act of being still. We rely on ‘how to’ guides, and seminars about meditation. We have made meditation something to think about, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Just take the time to be still.” Coming into Balance “By having balance between the left wing and the right wing, the eagle coasts effortlessly—beating its wings only five times an hour. We too need this balance within ourselves, and within our society. As in yoga philosophy, the left wing represents the female energy like the moon—subtle, reflective, vulnerable—while the right wing is like the Yang, assertive, strong, and hot. Sadly our society has become dominated by the ‘right-wing.’ Even in our yoga practice we see this imbalance play out—when we focus more on athleticism, or talk about who has the best teacher, and when we feel we need to prove our worth. So we must allow ourselves to become vulnerable, to receive, and to be able to be contemplative in our practice—and our life—in order for the balance to return.” Life is the Ceremony “For this balance to return we must focus less on physical rituals, ceremonies and classes, and remind ourself that life is the ceremony, and that these practices are simply reminders of that constant state of Being. Every thought, word, and action is a prayer within that ceremony. If we don’t realize this, we are in danger of turning spirituality into religion with our list of ‘must-dos.’ Once we understand that we create our ceremony, then we realize that everything we need to obtain balance is right in front of us.” This personal balance is desperately needed, says Tony, as society becomes ever more disconnected from ancient traditions. “Humanity used to reach out to one another. We were open to learn from each other’s differences—seeking peace and harmony—but this is sadly no longer the case. We have forgotten that we are all one,” he says. Tony believes that even our spiritual teachings (such as Native American traditions, yoga, or Buddhism) are simply separate unique facets of what he calls ‘the diamond in the sky,’ or unconditional love. “Indeed, everything is a unique facet of that diamond,” says Tony. “Every person, every relationship, and every challenge that comes to us, are simply reflecting back to us the unconditional love that lies within everything.” And so, says Tony, we must each take the flight of the eagle. “We must leave our comfort zone of the nest, seek balance and soar towards our highest dreams—towards truth, and towards peace for all. This is the fulfilling of the circle of life. For at the end of this circle, the story that will be told will not be of our successes in the world—but rather of the lives we touched.” — Helen Avery is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, and full-time dog walker of Millie.