The following is a full interview from “Journey Into Yin Yoga” by Travis Eliot
The book can be purchased here
STIC (from the Revolutionary Gangsta rap duo dead prez) is an internationally acclaimed hip hop artist, songwriter, and producer that has come full circle as a passionate holistic health advocate. Stic created the groundbreaking “fit hop” album “The Workout” that debuted at #1 of iTunes Fitness charts. Stic is an RRCA Certified Long Distance Running Coach, Level 2 USA Archery Instructor and founder of the RBG FIT CLUB– a lifestyle brand and website fusing hip hop culture with holistic wellness. Stic has received the Black Men’s Holistic Health Award, The Betty Shabazz Award for Social Justice and The Humane League’s Humane Hero Award. Stic enjoys long distance running, reading, martial arts and archery. He is currently in school for Integrative Wellness and Life Coaching. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Afya and their two sons, Itwela and Nkosua.
T.E. So I thought we could start off with talking about the Tao. Can you tell the readers, from your experience, what the Tao is?
S. Oh man, wow! Might as well put the tough questions first. (laughter) Nah, well they always say, those who know the Tao can’t put it into words. And so, to try to express it, I guess it’s our path. It’s the unfolding of our nature in what and who we are. It’s been simplified as, ‘it’s the way.’ It’s kind of like the way everything is connected, and how it flows even when we can’t always put a finger on. It’s the understanding that there’s a process that is ordered, even with chaos, that there is a flow and a wisdom to creation. So that’s, maybe my understanding, what makes sense to my path. And I think that our everyday life is our Tao. And there’s the microcosm and the macrocosm. And our everyday lives kind of mirror the universe and nature. We have in nature the four points of spring, winter, summer, and fall. We kind of go through that energetically every day, in body temperature, in peaks and valleys of energy, and activity and stillness. So, I think we are Tao too, in a nutshell.
T.E. That’s beautiful. And I think the difficult thing for a lot of people in modern-day society is that there’s a disconnect from that Tao, you know? People, especially living in a big city, aren’t so connected to the rhythms of nature, so we start talking about there being this natural flow of nature. Sometimes people are like, “What are you talking about? I don’t know what you mean.” I think it’s cool how you relate that for people in the sense that we have this change of seasons. We have these rhythms within our body. Our energy goes up. Then, our energy goes down, and it just happens naturally.
S. Exactly. Yeah.
T.E. So I know that you’ve had a very vibrant and adventurous life. You’ve been very successful, especially in the music business, and I wonder if you could share when your awakening to the Tao happened?
S. Oh, man, it’s still happening! [laughter] I had gout in my early twenties, changed to a plant-based diet, got healthier that way, wanted to get more active, so I went and took Kung Fu for many years. And in Kung Fu, I started learning more about the philosophies of Zen, and Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, and just that whole world. Also, I started having dreams of anxiety-like situations. So, I might be dreaming that I’m in a car about to go off a cliff, or I would dream that I’m in slow motion when I need to move fast, and I can’t, it’s like being in sludge. Just various dreams that kept putting me in a feeling of really heavy anxiety. For whatever reason, at some point in my dream, there was a detachment that happened. I was able to realize, “you’re dreaming.” And it would give me this sense of relaxation, like a release. But one day I was out running, and I realized that I can do that in my waking life, then I was like, “Oh, that’s what that means.” In terms of what they call the watcher, that’s how I got introduced to that concept. I became able to basically snap myself out of bad dreams. I didn’t practice it, or I didn’t learn the technique to do it. It just started happening.
T.E. I loved how you spoke about your dream state, and it was almost like you were going to school in your dream state. Your subconscious was teaching you, and the teaching was actually letting go, this idea of positive detachment. So, in Taoism, we have this concept of chi. In yoga they call it prana. I wonder if you could talk about chi?
S. Right on. Well, at the current moment, I’m really passionate about that question and that practice. I practice a form of Qigong called Ra Qigong, and a lot of the Qigong we see, it looks similar to tai chi, in terms of the flowing movement and what not. But, Ra Qigong is an older model of Qigong. It’s more like yin yoga in the sense that you’re just holding a position, and you are breathing, and then there are certain healing sounds corresponding to different organ systems. I’ve learned in the teachings and in my experience that Qi is everything. It’s the vital life force, it’s the evidence of the vitality in everything. It is also the evidence of function. So whatever is happening, it is the evidence of what is real, which is chi. So the fact that we’re breathing is evidence that there’s a vital function that is happening, and the Chinese word for that phenomena is “chi.” Like you said, it’s “prana” in India, in ancient Egypt, it was called “Ra.” But, it’s also important, I think to understand, that chi is not something that you’re going to put in a jar and be able to quantify in a Western way. There’s a doctor who I study a lot. His practice is dedicated to the scientific evidence of Chi, and he talks about certain markers like serotonin levels, heat in the body, circulation, heartrate, and the bioelectric field. So, the parallel in science to what Chinese people call chi, would be bioelectric magnetic fields. Ultimately, what I learned, is that chi is in all things everywhere. There are times when we have a lot of it available and times, like bears that hibernate, where you have to conserve, rebuild and regenerate chi. So that’s my student take on it [laughter].
T.E. Beautiful. I love what you said about the bear hibernating inside the cave, having to build chi that way, because that’s basically a description as to what yin yoga is. Let’s chat about yin and yang. Maybe you could also explain how we see them reflected in modern times?
S. It’s so dope that all of these separate things are different ways of talking about the same thing. Yin and yang is a concept to kind of break down the process of life, of the Tao. It’s essentially interdependence, flowing chi, and balance. Yin represents receptive energy and Yang is active energy. And so categorically you can put all kinds of phenomenon under one of those sides based on their functioning. In martial arts, we learn there’s female steps and there’s male steps, or there’s Yin steps and Yang steps. And the female step is considered a step where you pull in, you receive, and you allow the energy to come into you to redirect it. A yang step would be when you penetrate your opponent’s space with a strike, with the positioning or things like that. So, the ancient ones realized that that basic concept is the polarity of energy of everything in phenomenon. So, in everyday life, it’s simple things like talking and listening. Talking to somebody, you’re taking a yang step and listening is yin. The idea though, is that they’re not opposites. I think that’s one of the common misconceptions, is that yin and yang is about opposites. But, they actually complement, right?
For example, I was talking to my dad about this concept. We feel it in different ways and we were talking about perspectives. I said, “If you look at a thermometer and let’s say it says 50- 60 degrees. In the South, that’s cold!” [laughter]. But, in Minnesota, that’s not a bad day. Right? So, perspective-wise, yin and yang, is it hot, is it cold? We could argue over that. Buddha talked about what he called the “right view,” The truth is it’s not hot or cold. Those are opinions and judgments. But the truth could be looked at by saying it’s 50 degrees. That’s one way of looking at it without a judgment. But the other way to see how hot and cold are the same thing, is to say what we’re talking about is temperature. Hot is temperature, and cold is temperature. That is how yin and yang are not opposites, but they are different degrees of the same thing. In this case, it’s temperature. So, I try to look at emotional processes like that too. I try to be more mindful of balancing my emotional state by doing a give and take. If I’m upset, I try to come back to peace. If I’m sad, I try to think of things that I’m grateful for to harmonize and balance that energy out. In life, it takes both types of energy to flow, right?
T.E. That’s right, and you just hit upon the importance concept that Yin and Yang are relative. I know you are into both yin and yang forms of fitness. For example, you’re a big runner like myself but that’s a real yang form of exercise. How do you find the yin within the yang of running?
S. I try to communicate that in the run coaching that I do, I guess I had never thought about it that way, but I guess that’s my approach in running. People are so intimidated by their heart rate. They say, “Oh, my heart rate is going faster, I don’t like it.” It’s this whole intimidation. But I try and get them to see the joy in running. For example, I coach to stop looking at the watch, stop looking at the pace, stop looking at the clock, and stop worrying about getting to the end. By simply being present, this might free up the breath, and then they start relaxing. They can enjoy that it’s a meditative, therapeutic, healing, simple, repetitive, really easy practice, to just flow in. But our minds are so tense that it makes us work three times as hard. When you really relax, you are unmovable. You’re like a mountain, which is very strong. But a mountain doesn’t resist you, it’s just like “I’m not moving!” [laughter].
So, it’s that kind of stillness in the movement of running, that makes the running light. It makes it really pleasant and simple. One of my mantras that I use for myself, and I teach to my clients, is ‘speed up when you can, slow down when you need to.’ That’s a really simple thing that is natural to do, but people don’t realize they have that kind of control in what they’re doing. If it’s getting a little bit much, slow down a little bit [laughter]. And if it’s too easy, or boring, then pick it up and get the energy going.
And if you do that, you can go for miles and miles. And the other thing is, running is so natural, even for children. You have to teach children the ABC’s, you got to teach them numbers, and you even have to teach a child how to walk. But you don’t ever have to teach a child how to run. That’s just natural. [laughter] I think it is the fundamental exercise that is both yang and yin, when we approach it with that intention of ease and grace.
T.E. Throughout this conversation, you’ve used words like “let go,” “relax,” “enjoy,” “ease,” stuff like that, and so it keeps coming back to this. If we want to align with the Tao, it’s about getting out of the way of ourselves. It’s about paying attention to the moment. Like you said, when you’re running, don’t look at your watch, don’t think about what your heart rate is every single second. Let go of all that stuff and just get in the zone, and the athlete’s zone is the same thing as getting into the flow of the Tao.
S. Yeah, that’s right.
T.E. I think that sometimes when we start talking about letting go, or this idea of yin energy, people feel worried they’re going to lose their edge. How are you able to be ambitious and to achieve things? But how do you do it in a way that really does encompass the yin and the yang, and embracing the flow of the Tao?
S. Well, I think the breath is a great metaphor. The process of breathing is one of those bodily functions that at the same time is involuntary, is also voluntary. So, there are times when you can hold your breath, and there are times where you’re not even thinking about the breath, and just naturally breathing right? I wouldn’t want to have to remember to breathe all of the time. [laughter] But I also like that I can energize myself in a certain way with breathing, or consciously relax in the midst of a challenge or a fear. So, I think that’s a great metaphor for what we try to do, being driven people, but also knowing that control comes at an energetic cost when we are trying to control everything and make things happen. For someone that’s like, “forget all that meditation stuff, I got to go get it. I got to drive, drive, drive and get it,” is like someone that’s holding their breath. But you can only do that for so long before you got to let go and just allow the breath to flow. Ultimately, it’s the mindfulness of control and the mindfulness of allowing.
T.E. Absolutely. All right, let’s talk about what your yin yoga practice is like?
S. I do Yin Yoga on Tuesdays at 4:30pm with my wife. It’s a good supplement for running a lot. We are holding poses typically two minutes, sometimes we’ll do five minutes for certain stuff. Again, it’s the real power of being still and allowing the pose to do whatever it’s doing. [laughter] I feel like it’s about trusting. I’ve been doing it for almost two years.
T.E. How has your yin yoga practice helped in other ways?
S. I think it’s one of those foundational practices that helps my entire life. I always meditate right after my run because in the morning I am very active. I get my heart pumping, and then as soon as I’m done, my body naturally wants to rest. For me I’m using the Tao. When I wake up in the morning and I’ve got a bunch of stuff on my mind, I’m not trying to force myself to settle. I just use the energy for the run. After I’m automatically like, “Ahhhh.” So it’s those same principles of yin and yang. Then, I see what else I can apply it to. I apply it to cleaning. I have a practice called Soji that I got from the monks, where you set the clock, and you clean an area in your space. I’ve been able to clear my shoes, my clothes, clutter, paper, and old stuff that you just collect. That clutter aggravates your thinking. I’ve made it a spiritual practice to live in order. All that I’ve been learning through yoga, running and Qigong.
T.E. And the whole practice of Fung Shui comes from the wisdom of the Tao. I loved what you said about your practice of running and then meditating. I noticed that my writing, creativity, clarity, and inspirations are off the charts after I do a strong practice. The other day Lauren and I went for a ten mile trail run and then I came home and wrote all day. The writing was just effortless in a way.
S. Yeah, man. I love it.
T.E. All right, let’s wrap it up. What’s your favorite yin yoga pose?
S. Well I’m going to have to say, it might be funny, but it’s Corpse pose. [laughter] Also, Sleeping Swan, just holding that and feeling that point of tension just relax at a certain point.
T.E. Is there a least favorite yin yoga pose you have?
S. I don’t have anything that I’m like, “Oh, I hate doing this.” But there’s definitely lots of them that I’m challenged by! [laughter] You know what I’ve been having a challenge with? It’s very simply just sitting and touching my toes, like the sitting forward fold.
T.E. In yin yoga they call that Caterpillar.
S. Caterpillar, yeah, that’s challenging for me. My ego is like, “I want to be able to touch my toes easier,” but I just haven’t developed that flexibility yet.
T.E. Yeah, I used to have a teacher from India that said that pose is one of the four most important poses in all of yoga. So yeah, it’s a big one.
S. If you don’t mind, did he say why?
T.E. Yeah, on an anatomical level it stretches the whole posterior chain. So you’re stretching everything from the heels all the way up to the top of the neck. You’re also massaging all the organs in the stomach area. It helps to release the stagnation in the digestive area, which helps to improve the circulation of the chi and the process of digestion. I think we both know if your digestion is off, then everything else gets off. And then on a deeper level, it goes back to what you said earlier in the conversation about the bear hibernating inside of its cave. When you fold like that, it’s like your folding into the cave of your body, your own self. You are retreating in. There’s an inward dynamic that happens, that helps to activate that wisdom inside of the body to restore and replenish. This ties into a lot of what we talked about today.
S. That’s good insight for practice.
T.E. Lastly, I just wanted to open up the floor for any inspiration that you want to share. It could be a quote, poem or story.
S. Right on. There’s these two little rhymes that I like to be mindful of myself and share with the brothers because we get all ‘yanged’ up. First is ‘Men Need Yin,’ and second is ‘Be Strong, Qigong.’ [laughter] Also, I have little Zen story that I really, really love.
It’s about this farmer who lost his horse and his neighbor came over and said, “You’ve lost your horse, man, sorry about the bad news.” And the farmer just says, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” A couple of days later, that horse comes back, and it’s followed by 13 other horses. In that time, if an animal is on your land, now you’re the rightful owner. So the neighbor sees all the horses and comes over to give him congratulations of good luck, and the farmer says, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” A couple days later, the farmer’s oldest son was riding one of the new horses, and falls off and breaks his leg. And the neighbor, he’s on top of everybody’s business, he comes over and says, “Oh man, what luck, those damn horses! Your son broke his leg, that’s messed up.” And you know, the farmer remains calm and replies, “Who knows what’s good or bad?” Sure enough, the king of the whole province wanted to expand his territory militarily, and he was drafting young men to go to war. And so, he stopped at the farmer’s house looking for his oldest son. Of course, just so happened that his oldest son had a broken leg, so he didn’t have to go to war. And you know, the moral of the story is, who knows what’s good or bad? We have to let things unfold, stay centered and attend to them as they happen without judgment.
T.E. Awesome. It comes back to just letting the Tao just do its thing and trusting the whole process. That’s a great story to end with. Thank you so much man, for taking the time to chat!
S. Thank you man. I’m thankful. It was really an honor.