Transform T – A Shirt for Haiti

Tonight I found out that YogaDork was running a t-shirt design contest to raise money for Haiti, and I immediately opened up my Photoshop program.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do.

Back in early November, I submitted a design to a Yoga Journal contest for a freebie to a YJ conference, and I used then a concept that rings even more true and has even more meaning now. The concept is the word transform, written alongside of the pose utthita parsvakonasana.

Let me give you the back story.

Transform – Not Just For LifeZoid Robots

When Judith Lasater came to Seattle this time last year, it was the start of what would be a long term relationship of my studies with her. At the start of the first day, she rung her tingsha bells, slowly at first, and then with increased speed and volume, fast, faster, loud, louder. When she stopped, you could still hear the echo of the sound filling the room.

Judith explained that the ringing of the bell was a call to action, and the speed signified the urgency. We need to do our practice, now more than ever, she said. Our practice is not a location, it’s the intention. It’s something you can do 24 hours a day. “We change the world by this practice,” Judith stated with such strong conviction, and I was speechless and motionless (both extremely rare occurrences for me, and if you know me personally, you’re probably nodding and smiling right now).

“I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears” – Bob Hope

My understanding of Judith’s statement is that we change the world by this practice because we change ourselves by this practice. We are, as MJ said, “starting with the man in the mirror.” One way of changing something is to transform it. And so, change = transform.

The root word trans means across, denoting the idea of movement, of bringing something from one place to another place. To me, that’s what our practice is meant to do, to help us transcend conditions, to transmit what TED would call “ideas worth spreading”, and to transport whatever Good Stuff we get from the mat into the rest of our life.

Form, literally, is what we work on when we do the yoga postures, it is what we work on when we assume the meditation posture. Form is our attitude and state of being, as in bad form, good form, off form, and on form. Form is the natural world, as in landform, and ourselves, as in life form, or true to form.

So, transform, to me, is bringing that which we practice and putting it in good use.

Connecting – Not Just For Getting Online

What about parsvakonasana, what’s so interesting about that?

Utthita Parsvakonasana, or Extended Side Angle Pose, is a pose I work on pretty much all the time. This is true for a lot of other poses as well, but I have a story of how I learned to love Parsvakonasana.

For the longest time, I thought I had to bend down as low as possible and reach something across the room. Needless to say, my form was pretty god-awful. Studying with Theresa Elliott fixed a lot of it, and then the light came on when I read about the meaning behind Utthita Parsvakonasana in Judith Lasater’s book 30 Essential Yoga Poses.

“The diagonal line created by the arm, torso, and leg symbolizes our connection from Earth to heaven and heaven to Earth.” – Page 49, 30 Essential Yoga Poses, Judith Lasater.


So, it’s not about reaching for some vague thing across the room, I’m reaching for something above. Whenever I practice this pose, I think of this first eureka moment, and I check for the outer edge of my back foot reaching for the earth and my arm reaching up, which (this is for all my Iyengar peeps out there), helps me open the chest-pit and the armpit.

You see, the symbols are everywhere here: extending, connecting, etc. If we really want to beat this horse some more, I can go as far as saying that by helping the Haitian people, we are providing support. Where their Earth rumbled, by giving tangible things, like money, we give something solid for them to get back on their feet.

Finally, the trans and form lettering are in the colors of the Haitian flag. To me it’s a subtle way of supporting the cause and remembering it when you wear it without shoving it in people’s face that you’ve done something good.

Okay, do you wanna see it?

I transformed (ha) a picture my friend Ben took of me at Village Green Yoga. My form is not perfect, so all you, ahem “Nerds“, please refrain from using “tape measures, slide rules, sextants, the Global Positioning System, and possibly even a measuring device that uses the decay level of cobalt-52 to measure the positions of the subnuclear particles lurking deep within my pose.” (Thanks, YogaDawg, I never get tired of that line).

Nikki Chau in Utthita Parsvakonasa, photo by Ben Schiendelman, shot at Vilalge Green Yoga.

Nikki Chau in Utthita Parsvakonasa, photo by Ben Schiendelman, shot at Village Green Yoga.

And here’s the design:


So, that’s my story. It is way too late to consider it being “late” right now. It’s getting towards “early” territory, and I can hear the early birds outside. I’ve stayed up almost the whole night, but that’s a first-world problem. There are many people in Haiti who have probably stayed up for much longer and will stay up for a while longer still.

I have stopped reading the news, which seems to talk more about the politics of aids than anything else. And while the world bickers on how fast, how much, where, when, who, how, why, human lives continue to suffer and perish. I am discouraged by it all, and though I’m no Arjuna, at times, yes, I do feel like putting down my bows and arrows (er… you know, my iPhone and MacBook Pro) and become overwhelmed with sorrow. So, thanks YogaDork, for this contest, to give me a kick in the pants, to say, “fight, Arjuna”. Tonight I felt the urgency, and this was my call to action.

The deadline is this coming Thursday by dawn (like, this time, probably), so I have some time, and if you have any suggestions on the design, please let me know.