Maz Valcorza: Yoga Teacher, Founder of Sādhanā Kitchen & Everyday Vegan

 With Ahimsa at the core of her businesses (and engraved on a ring on her finger), Maz’s life is deeply interwoven with yoga philosophy, even when long absent from her mat. 

In her heart-warmingly honest interview after a challenging past year, the founder of Sadhana Kitchen and Everyday Vegan shares her profound reflections on love and pain, connection and truth.

Here, Maz tells PRAVAYAMA how a relationship can be simultaneously destructive and beautiful, why she questions if we’re actually responsible for our feelings, and how she’s recently learning through yoga that she can write her own story.

The Relationship Mirror

The majority of my friends who I’ve met through yoga and the conscious community  hardly anyone’s even in a relationship because it’s freakin’ hard. What I’ve experienced recently is that this primary relationship – the most powerful mirror – it can be destructive, it can be beautiful and it can illuminate the darkest shadows in the deepest caverns of your heart.

I’ve experienced so much challenge in having aspects of myself reflected that many times I don’t even know who I am any more. I don’t know what’s more ego destroying than not knowing who you are when you once had such a firm idea. And that’s something I’m so grateful to navigate, no matter how challenging, because I’ve learnt that once you think you know, you’re the furthest from the truth you’ve ever been.

Duality & Connection

In the vast majority of the company that I keeppeople are concerned with growth – spiritual growth, love and connection. But it’s hard, because when you connect with people like that, if you’re also like that, then there’s nowhere to go but go deep. Going deep means you can’t really hide from your shit. Our shit is not easy to face, otherwise, it wouldn’t be shit! 

We are often taught in spiritual teachings that we are ultimately responsible for how we feel and are in control of our reactions to people and circumstances, despite not being in control of others. It is this notion of personal responsibility, examined alongside the knowledge that I can hurt others through my actions and vice versa that can seem like an irreconcilable dichotomy. And I’m still very much in the middle of figuring out what it all means for me. 

If I am ultimately responsible for how I think, feel, act, react, receive, believe and accept, then every time I feel pain is it a choice? Every time I have been fearful or careless or selfish and I’ve hurt someone else, can they choose not to feel pain? I’m not sure yet, I’m still in the process of getting to know myself and what triggers pain and fear in me, the choices I can make and the power that I have to shift it. I feel like that’s probably the best place to start. Within.

Knowing and Unknowing Herself

One thing I’m struggling with right now is ‘am I fulfilled and happy with where I am and how I’ve gotten here?’ a year ago, I’d tell you ‘I really am’. Despite all the circumstances that had led me to that point, (I believed that) I believed in myself back then and I was very positive, even about things that didn’t go my way. At that time, how I expressed myself in that moment was authentic. 

If you ask me now, I don’t even know who I am, I don’t even know if what I said at that time was true back then because right now I am so lost and experiencing the death of so many things that I held on to, that I thought had defined me. It’s both simultaneously terrifying and liberating. The more I don’t know, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I think I know, the more I think I know, the more there is to unlearn, the more I unlearn, the more I don’t know. And so life goes.

The Struggle of Satya (Truthfulness)

So – what is true? Was I ever ok? Was I hiding things back then, was I projecting that I was ok? Recently I’ve been struggling with what is true because I’ve lost connection with myself in many ways. I have become afraid, I have lost trust in myself and I have let my own fears dictate my thoughts, words and actions.

Satya is something that is so interesting to me – what truth is. Whether it’s universal, whether it’s subjective. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last year when it comes to that because I’ve had some long-held beliefs that have been shattered and then I’ve adopted some new beliefs that I never thought I’d have. 

I feel like a baby taking in the world around me, like a toddler developing a sense of self for the first time. I feel like everything is new again because I experienced such rapid learning, evolution and growth when yoga first found me, then just in the last year, so much of what I’ve known has been destroyed. 

Ashtanga and Tuning In

 I’m so grateful for Ashtanga because physical postures do matter even though they’re not all that yoga is. You can move energy through breath and tune into energetic lines within your body. It becomes less about ‘does this look good?’ and instead becomes about ‘how does this feel?’

‘Is my heart opening or do I have a blockage? Why am I feeling constriction in my thighs? Why is it difficult for me to breathe into this side of my ribs?’ You start to understand energy first hand through the vehicle that we all have, our bodies. My teacher once said, “Yoga is not all about the body, but it’s a pretty good place to start exploring the entire universe.”

In your first classes these explorations may not make sense straight away but you start to realise, feel, become aware. Yoga is a science, and a very intelligent and effective one. It’s basically like a ‘Dummies Guide’ for tuning you into the universe. What else teaches you how to do that in such an accessible and personal way?

“I often feel disconnected and lost, but there’s still a thread of knowing in there somewhere, buried but not completely gone. And I think that’s the power of yoga, it’s always with you no matter what.”

Avoiding the Yoga Mat & Avoiding Herself

It’s no coincidence to me that I lose my physical practice when I’m experiencing the most difficult times because it’s when I hide from myself. I don’t wanna be on my mat, I don’t wanna face that shit, I don’t want it to come up.

But it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away from your practice it still feels like home. It is a reflection of what you’ve experienced in the time you’ve been absent. You get to know yourself again and you get to reintroduce yourself to yourself time and time again, in every breath and in every moment. This is why I am so grateful for, and have such a deep love and reverence for my practice.

Reconnecting to Magic

When I was young, my grandmother would do a lot of weird stuff that I didn’t understand. Like, she would have hot coals and sage and she would do these incantations while smoking me. She was also Roman Catholic so I was very confused but she obviously kept both practices for a reason.

I think after leaving the Philippines I had the magic conditioned out of me. So when I entered the world of yoga, I felt I re-entered the world of magic. I think yoga connected me back through breath, through energy, through understanding that what we can perceive with our physical senses is not only what’s there.

I started to be open to magic again. My grandmother used to tell me about the wind, for example, that there are two lovers looking for each other and the wind is their call to one another, but they never quite get to meet, their calls just breeze across the earth in eternal and steadfast hope. 

There’s an opening scene in one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, Moana. Moana sits in her village with other children and her grandmother who is telling old, colourful and seemingly terrifying tales about demons and gods. The other children cry in fear but Moana’s eyes widen and she wants to see, to feel, to explore, to know more. That felt so familiar to me. 

A clear memory I will never forget is my grandmother taking me to a chapel with an altar in front. I was a very hyperactive child and found it hard to stay silent and still (nothing much has changed). I always asked why and what. What is on the alter? Why? What is that box? What’s in it? Why? This golden box on the altar always took my attention and when I asked my lola (grandmother) what was in it, she said Jesus. All I wanted to do after that was open the box and see tiny Jesus inside, set him free and put him in my pocket so we could play. And that in a funny way, explains my relationship with magic today.

The Yoga That’s Always There

Yoga in daily life had never been as challenging for me as it had been in 2016 and my physical practice in turn was the most absent and irregular it’s ever been.

However, it has also been the first meaningful step I’ve taken to reconnect with myself. I still often feel so disconnected and so lost, but there’s still a thread of knowing in there somewhere, buried but not completely gone. And I think that’s the power of yoga, it’s always with you no matter what. It doesn’t demand anything of you but it’s always there. It is your teacher, it is your friend. It is you.

Choosing Our Story

We are what we think, feel and act like in each moment. Everything we experience is an opportunity to make a choice. If we believe that we are at the mercy of circumstance and others, then what’s the point of life?

One thing I’ve been consistently working on recently, that I’ve found just as consistently fucking difficult is choosing to write my own story. Being mindful of my thoughts, words and actions and understanding how they shape my reality. I’m not sure about you, but I’d much rather be an empowered creator than a helpless victim. Thank heavens for yoga, because remembering to choose your story ain’t always easy.

Images: Tré Koch