Daren Friesen, owner of the Moksha Yoga Studio in Chicago, IL, advises anyone to embrace their situation. “Embrace whatever you are doing,” says Darren, “whether you like it or not. To distinguish what is true from what is not true, fully embrace the moment.”
The Omaha born, USC educated yoga instructor, speaks with an incredibly calm calculation, like a man who knows something about inner peace. With the support of his parents, Darren traveled through Japan as a high school student, and later studied the practice of yoga in India. It was there that he saw the life beyond the yoga studio, the life that was practiced by many people without material wealth, yet seemed happy beyond American standards.
Yoga is about “learning how to open yourself” to what will make you truly happy, and it doesn’t necessarily take place in a studio. Daren says that simply making better choices at the grocery store can be a form of yoga, where choices lead the chooser down a path to self-improvement. Yoga is, says Darren, “how to work with the mind,” and better control it to help with personal fulfillment and satisfaction. He uses yoga as a method of defeating his own fear. “Fear holds us back from embracing our true happiness,” says Darren, “Everyone needs a tool or technique to battle their fear.” Meeting Darren, you immediately sense he knows exactly of what he speaks.
There’s an ancient saying that says happiness is very close, but it’s also very far. Happiness can exist right here in this moment if you’ll just let yourself go and feel it and experience it.
But it’s difficult because there’s so much that clouds over our true happiness. It’s not so easy to feel or see or understand. That’s why yoga is so powerful because it provides those tools for this goal. When you practice the poses and breathing techniques, it helps you find and to see clearly and know what’s important in your quest to find happiness.
Yoga teaches that happiness is our true state of being. But because of stress and tension and misperception, it’s just clouded. The poses and breathing practices are designed to uncover those illusions and misperceptions.
A lot of what happiness is relates to this thing called Dharma. Dharma is your purpose in life. To find your purpose, you have to be connected with who you are. When you’re living a life when you’re doing what matches your personality, then you can find true happiness. If you’re doing something that doesn’t match your personality and you’re dispositioned, that will cause suffering.
To find your Dharma it requires a sense of letting go. And not being identified with all of the conditioning that society has given you as you were growing up. The conditioning comes from schooling and your parents and your church and media. All this…conditioning. I was going to say brainwashing. But I guess conditioning is probably a better word.
All of that conditioning gives us a perception of somebody we’re supposed to be, without necessarily being who we truly are. Yoga is a practice to remove those layers of conditioning so that you can truly see who you are, and know what corresponds to your personality.
Kharma has a lot to do with it. We’re taught in American society that we can be whoever we want to be. I think that’s a little bit of a mistake. If your personality doesn’t match what resonates with you, then you’re going to have suffering. You have to find something that you connect with that matches your personality and your Kharmic disposition in order to truly be happy.
I see a lot of people trying to be something they think they want to be from all their conditioning, but are not necessarily happy with that. They struggle with that.
I’ve had a couple reincarnations in this life. I worked for that Japanese import- export company. In college I interned with the Young Republicans and did work for the White House. Now, I’m very far removed from those things. I’m on a completely different path now. But this truly resonates with me now because one of my Kharmic dispositions is to help people. Here at the yoga studio, this is a way I can do that.
How has your mentors shaped…
It’s very important to have mentors because they provide an example. Not only for the important career things that I do, like teaching yoga. From a technical perspective, they’re masters over all the poses and the breathing techniques. But also, they provide an intellectual and a spiritual example of how to live life.
What is great is to not only get exposed to their teachings, but also to be able to go to dinner and host them at my house and see how they actually are as people. Outside of the yoga studio, outside of the career, outside of the profession.
To see how simply they’ve taken up yoga as a lifestyle. It always fascinates me to sit down for a meal with these master teachers and see what they eat and how they eat. Most all of them are vegetarian. Just to see how simply they live and how happy they are. Also to see how some of these master teachers are making a lot of money, but also still living a simple life.
As you know, yoga has been booming for the last ten years. Some of the teachers at the top are doing really well. Some are making millions of dollars every year from what they do. But at the same time, they embrace the lifestyle. Taking the train from the airport instead of spending money on a taxi. It’s just amazing to see this.
When I lived in LA I was exposed to a lot of these great teachers when I was practicing at Yoga Works. When I moved to Chicago, I found that we didn’t have as many great teachers. I was kind of in LA at the right time as yoga started to boom.
The heart of yoga is how to work with your mind. The mind has a whole set of opinions and thoughts and judgments that are classified as either being true, not true, and imaginary. To find out what is true and not true is one of the basic tenets of yoga. And because of all of our conditioning, it’s hard to know what is true and not true.
I mean, go to the grocery store. You see these boxed frozen food that’s called ‘Healthy Choice.’ And it’s processed frozen food with all sorts of ingredients imported from China. How healthy can that be?
One of the first teachings of yoga is to look at what you’re eating to see what is true and not true. What is real and not real. We’re consuming such great amounts of toxic materials in our bodies that it affects the ability of the mind to see clearly.
If you’re eating foods with lots of processed additives, all of it has an affect on your system. Your hormonal system is very delicate. When we consume a lot of artificial chemicals, it affects our system in a very subtle way.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I would tell myself when I was 22. When I was 22 I was in this mental state of embracing everything that I was exposed to. I was living in Hermosa Beach in California. After my corporate job, every evening I would come home, put on my bathing suit, and go for a swim in the ocean. At that time I felt like I was embracing everything in my life.
I guess my advice would be to embrace everything that you’re doing, whether you like it or not. Because that is another way to determine what is true and what is not true is to fully embrace your experience and fully being in the moment. Whether you like it or not, whether it’s real or not. By embracing the experience of whatever you’re doing, you can understand better of what is happening genetically.
If you don’t like your job and you’re going to work everyday, you can’t really understand what it’s about if you’re rejecting it. Or if you’re with someone and you’re rejecting them, you can’t understand or have empathy for someone unless you embrace it. Unless you accept it completely and totally.
Fear of insecurity…
The nature of fear. Fear holds us back from a lot of things. Especially in the embracing aspect that I was talking about. You need a tool or technique to overcome fear. It’s hard to fight it in your own mind.
Part of the answer to overcome fear is to accept where you’re at and who you are and what you’re doing in the moment. It’s not to say that you don’t make plans for the future or you don’t have goals or intentions or desires. But part of it is accepting where you’re at.
And it’s like a catch 22 because if you accept where you’re at, do you really need to change? But by accepting where you’re at, change is then possible. So accept where you’re at, and the fear that has such a strong grasp over you can dissipate. And then you can have more power to make a choice. It’s an interesting thing.
When we teach, one of the first things we teach in yoga is to get grounded to the earth. We ask you to look at your feet. Once your feet are established on the earth, this will help your nervous system to relax. Once your nervous system relaxes, your spine grows longer and you balance. This causes you to see more clearly.
So seeing clearly and overcoming fear are two sides of the same coin. They very much work together. As you see more clearly, you become more grounded. And vice versa. As you’re more grounded, you feel more stable, more relaxed in your nervous system. And this helps you to see more clearly, which is the same thing as overcoming fear.
Fear is a misperception of reality.
What changed the most about you from 8-10 years ago?
What has changed. My body is getting a little more creaky. I almost feel like I’m the same person. When you stand this close to the mirror, it’s hard to see yourself. You have to step back.
I think I’m less attached to things.
Change works in not only having something different.
You can practice yoga by being conscious and being aware of every moment you’re a part of. You can think, or you can listen. You can’t do both at the same time.
One way to tell if you have good digestion is to look at your feces. They should float in the toilet, and there should be no bad smell. That’s a good way to know whether you have good digestion.
A common theme from my teachers. They’re serious about their practice. It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of will power to choose the right foods and do your practice and being kind to people. I’m most impressed with the will power. It takes a tremendous amount of will power to be on this path. Because there are so many distractions in our society. There are so many things. It’s so easy to get off track. All of that is being fueled by the amount of marketing and advertising in our society.
Even in our advertising, we use Photoshop. But out in the world, there is so much Photoshopping going on, it’s hard to see what is real. Women look so beautiful and glamourous in the advertising. So do the men. But when you see people face to face, they’re not as beautiful. All the advertising and marketing gives us a false sense of who we should be. It takes a lot of willpower to resist the constant advertising messages that we should be tall and thin and beautiful all the time.
I even saw a McDonald’s bag with a person in a yoga pose on it. Yoga people do not eat McDonald’s. That’s an oxymoron. This is what creates so much illusion in our society. It’s hard to distinguish what’s good for you and what’s not. It’s important to see through what we’re being fed by our society.
The goal is to see clearly. Not to judge what’s going on.