At this risk of sounding a bit tone deaf to current events and the many upsetting examples of division, oppression and misuses of power, today I am writing about teaching yoga. And, lately, when not contemplating national and world events, I have been thinking a lot about what I care about in yoga and what I do not care about.
The longer I teach, the less I care about why people come to my class. As far as I can tell, people’s reasons for attending a class or a workshop vary greatly from fitness to inner peace and from time-out to time-in. I used to care about what I considered “pure motives” but now, not so much. Why someone is in my class is not necessarily my business.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that most people’s lives that are an interesting and oftentimes-messy mix of things that are going well and things that are flying off the rails in some way. (And if some situation or relationship is not currently flying off the rails, chances are, said circumstance just landed or is about to take off. But I digress.) Most of us have pain and joy in equal measure throughout any given year and everyone has periods of lightness and stretches of agonizing darkness. And, whether or not someone wants a cuter butt, a compassionate community, or is interested in abiding in the presence of the deepest Self, I am pretty sure no one is in the room with such an abundance of self-esteem and self-love that they need something to bring them down a notch. Most people are in class because they want a positive experience for themselves. We may not all agree on what makes any given class or workshop “positive” but as far as I can tell, most people are not hate-attending yoga class; they are not spending their hard-earned money and precious time to be upset, disappointed or put-down.
So, with all that said, I still don’t really care why someone is in my classroom.
I also do not care if everyone in my class can do every pose that I teach or not. I do not care if someone sits some things out. I do not think that everyone needs to do all the poses to live a good and meaningful life. And, even though it might seem like straight arms and legs are a big thing with me during the duration of class, truth be told, I really don’t care about it much in the grand scheme of life. Just so you know, I know that the benefits of yoga are not dependent on flexible hamstrings or balancing in handstand.
I do care, however, that we have a healthy rapport and that we are working toward a mutual acknowledgement of limits and capacities. I do care that over time we are working together to find appropriate stages, modifications, and/or alternatives to poses that are troublesome. I also care that we identify the poses that are simply out of the questions for any reason.
I know I can not plan a class that will avoid every possible physical limitation in the room while simultaneously meeting the most able-bodied person’s capacities. The task is impossible as far as I can tell. What is possible over the course of engaged study and practice is finding ways to work that are appropriate, uplifting and beneficial.
In the same way that I want students to know their own limits, I want them to know that my limits as a teacher far outnumber their limits as a student.
I do not care if my students are Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, pagan, atheist, agnostic or if their tent is pitched in the spiritual camp of “I Believe, But it’s Complicated.” However, I care deeply that my students learn to hold to their convictions and faith (or lack thereof) with self-respect in my classroom. I do care that students know I present yoga philosophy as part of a yoga education, not as a means to convince, coerce or convert them to something that is not right for them.
I do not care what size body someone is in. Yoga is a come-as-you-are proposition that may or may not change our outer appearance and yoga is not dependent on cute clothes, good hair, small thighs, or buff arms. Of course, if someone likes those things, I certainly do not care about that either. I do not care about what someone ate for lunch or whether or not they prefer green drinks or tacos for breakfast. Tea or coffee, soda or kombucha- again, not my interest.
I do not care if my students agree with everything I say or present. I do care that students feel safe to ask questions. I do care that students know that I know I make mistakes. I care about open channels of communication. I care about accepting responsibility, offering the benefit of the doubt and cultivating compassion for ourselves and each other. I care about studentship and paying attention and I also know that studentship and teaching are processes of maturation that take time. As much as yoga meets us where we are, yoga has the capacity to take us to places we have not yet been and have not yet imagined. I care that we, as a learning community made up of teachers and students, share in the promise of that Possibility.
I also do not care so much about the numerous ways people see what is broken in yoga. I care about discernment, clarity, evolution, and naming pitfalls and problems, but I see criticism as a means and not as an end. In my travels and long-term relationships with yogis and yoginis around the world, I see studios with teachers and students who are committed to growing in and through yoga. I see people who have found themselves and one another through the teachings and practices. I am not blind to the many problems we have and I am interested in naming them so that we can build something strong, wise and resilient. And, if the time comes where I do not see that possibility, you will know, because I will be doing something else.
Oh— and please call your representatives.
One of the questions I am most frequently asked is how I stay inspired to practice yoga.
The last time someone asked me about inspiration, I answered, “You mean beyond the basics? You mean, what do I do beyond meditation, mantra, asana, time in nature, studying, journal writing and going to therapy? Really, I got nothing other than that.”
And we laughed.
The question also assumes something that may or may not be true for me, depending on the day—that I am actually inspired.
Truth be told, I am not particularly inspired about yoga many days. I am, however, committed.
Come to think of it, the thought of having to be inspired to practice seems like way too much pressure to put on myself.
Let me back up. As far as practice goes— be it an asana practice, a study practice, a meditation practice, a dietary practice, etc.— there are two primary distinctions to consider. Are you established in practice and struggling within your established practice? Or are you struggling to establish yourself in practice? For instance, are you on your mat more days than not and the endeavor simply feels boring, repetitive, dry, frustrating and/or disappointing in some way? Or are you finding everything other than practice to do with your time and attention like laundry, Facebook, phone calls, emails, happy hour, etc.?
I consider myself established in a few practices. I don’t have to drum up a big story about why I do them, nor do I bring a lot of lofty ideas into the process. I sit in meditation, I write in my journal, I exercise, and I study simply because I am committed to doing those things. Within that, some days I want to practice and some days I do not want to. Some days I find the process enjoyable, while other days I find the work boring. Many days, my feelings are more neutral and unexamined. That being said, regardless of how I feel about the practice, most days my various practices seem to lift me up and carry me along in some way that I appreciate. Whether it is the dive into Self, a dose of endorphins from exercise or a bit of OCD-type satisfaction from checking something off a list, I am not exactly sure where the appreciation arises from, nor does it matter much to me. Practice seems to move me in a positive direction, whether or not I felt inspired to do it.
I suppose my inspiration-meter is set pretty low, when you get down to it. One nugget of new understanding, one insight about myself or someone else or Life itself, and/or one point of clarity and I feel more interested, if not inspired.
Many times the inspiration comes in the little things for me. For instance, I recently went to a yoga class and the teacher taught this one thing with a strap that I am getting lots of mileage from in my home practice and that is sure to show up in my intensives and trainings. A few weeks ago, a teacher gave me a tip about using my obliques in a specific way that has been a game changer and gave me tremendous fuel for study, practice and teaching. And so on. Sometimes all it takes is a slightly different twist on the poses (or a practice) to stimulate my creativity and curiosity.
I should add that, many times, long-time practitioners of any discipline may need to step outside their chosen discipline for inspiration. The number of long-time yoga teachers who are bored with teaching who think they need to do another training to get re-inspired far outweighs the number of long-time yoga teachers who, when feeling a bit dried-out in terms of inspiration, decide to plant a garden, take a dance class, get a puppy, or go on a non-yoga-related vacation. To be clear, I am not advocating a life of diversion and distraction, but simply a change of pace, a new vantage point, and a break in routine. Sometimes coming up to the shallow end of the pool is needed. Sometimes a deep dive is required.
It all depends.
If you are struggling with the inspiration for practice, to get established in practice in a way that is committed, reliable and generates its own momentum for continuity, then perhaps a different approach is needed. As always, to get a good answer we need to ask a good question which, when it comes to practice, means getting honest about where we actually are, not where we think we should be.
Strategies like 30-day challenges, goal-setting, coaching sessions, and one-on-one accountability structures can go a long way to helping folks get from “I want to, but I don’t,” “I want to, but I just can’t” and “Even though I love yoga, I don’t practice it,” and so on. I don’t use those tools currently, but when it comes to practice I am all for whatever works.
A few moments spent reflecting on your own personality can go a long way toward overcoming your current challenge, whatever it is. Do you work better alone or with a group or one-on-one? Would making a date to meet a friend at class help? Would committing publicly in some way help? Do you work well with rewards?
Maybe you are setting the bar too high for yourself in regards to your expectations for yourself. I can’t tell you the number of times I remind people that the 15 minutes they actually do is better than the 2 hours they do not do. The principle of “just do something” seems obvious enough and yet, sometimes we fall into the trap of all-or-nothing thinking and/or self-criticism and fail to recognize that regularity over a long period of time bears more fruit than do the grand gestures that start and stop.
Well, I am rounding the corner on 1000 words now and so will bring this entry to a close with some shameless promotions that may support your commitment, if not your inspiration:
Keep the faith.
Judith Lasater once told me that a lineage is three generations of teachers back from you.
My spiritual teacher’s name was Lee Lozowick. His guru was Yogi Ramsuratkumar. His master was Swami Papa Ramdas. My first influential asana teacher was Manouso Manos. His teacher was BKS Iyengar. BKS Iyengar’s guru was Krishnamacharya. Later in my asana journey I met Desiree Rumbaugh who introduced me to John Friend who studied with Ramanand Patel, George Purvis and Donna Holleman, all of whom studied with BKS Iyengar. (This name sonly a few of the senior Iyengar teachers who helped him along the way, ) Even later in my asana studies, I met some amazing Bikram yoga teachers like Afton Carraway, Gianna Purcell, Kathy Durham and Mardy Chen. They studied a lot with Emmy Cleaves and Mary Jarvis, all of whom who studied with Bikram Choudhury.
I hear a lot about lineage these days, both positively and negatively. If you were to google some of the teachers on the afore mentioned lists you could go down a rabbit hole through which, at the very least, you would find unconventional behavior and with certainty, in some cases, scandal and abuse. (And I must be sure to note that many of the people on the list are doing their work in the world free of scandal or abuse allegations and while they may have had the occasional conflict with a student here or there, these people are of the highest integrity and deepest humility.)
The fact that so many of my teachers are complicated characters makes the topic of lineage a bit uncomfortable for me at times. Even considering the difficulties associated with these teachers, I had an excellent yoga education for which I am grateful. I was one of the lucky ones for whom the scandals and abuses did not cause much harm.
Others, clearly, were not so lucky.
In the aftermath of the scandals associated with Anusara yoga, I quickly learned the depth and breadth of varied experiences that existed within our community. Some people practiced for years in a community that was healing for them. Others members of the same community were practicing under significantly traumatic circumstances. I have endeavored to make space in my own heart to hold the complexity of this wide spectrum of experience.
I have watched similar challenges play out in the Bikram, Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar yoga communities as they have taken their turns walking through the muddy waters of abuse allegations, legal investigations, licensing issues, interpersonal complications and professional devastation. I don’t have too many smart things to say about these challenges. I can, however, offer some heart-felt validation for how hard it is claim one’s own experience as it is within a community— good or bad— and to honor, respect and make room for another’s experience to be 180 degrees different from one’s own.
As far as lineage goes, I find strength in remembering that I am distinct from my teachers. My offering as a teacher is informed by the positive aspects of the lineages of which I have been part as much as it is informed by the things I have seen go haywire. For instance, one reason I haven’t created a “style” of yoga with a structured process of certification is that I have never wanted my students to be beholden to me or to be at the mercy of my possible future lapses in judgement.
And, I have seen enough to know that anyone can fall. Anyone.
And, all of us stumble. Some of us, repeatedly.
I also find strength in the recognition that lineage flows both ways. A host of smart, dedicated, successful, and sincere practitioners generously refer to me as their teacher. My students are from different walks of life, live in a varied types of bodies, are different ages and have skill sets, expertise and experiences beyond my own.
From online relationships to up-close-and-personal relationships, my students inspire me with hope for the practice and for what is possible within imperfect learning communities who endeavor to grow more conscious together. My students have helped me grow into who I am today— both in and out of the yoga room. And, in the same way that I am different from my teachers, my students are different from me and create programs, trainings, and offerings of their own--some of which resemble what they learned from me and some of which do not.
As I see it today, lineage also flows outward as well as up and down. It flows between our friends, fellow seekers, and colleagues with whom we are intimate and through whom God's grace manifests as support, understanding and the occasional swift kick-in-the-ass.
If you are one of the lucky ones for whom lineage feels like a blessing today, say a prayer of thanksgiving. However, it is not necessarily unlucky if the lineage of which you were a part is no longer fertile soil in which you can grow or if the environment that once nurtured you grew toxic. Perhaps the disillusionment is its own brand of luck as it will invite you into a new domain of spiritual authority and personal agency. Two of the best things that happened to me were meeting Lee and his death. Meeting him helped me find a current of Grace to which I could connect and his passing helped me understand that this Grace lived in me all along.
And so, if you can not name your teacher’s teacher teacher, or you don't want to name them, you are not outside the field of graceful opportunities that yoga has to offer you. Lineage is not a commodity to be leveraged in the marketplace, nor is lineage an essential prerequisite for growth on the path personally or professionally. If you find yourself in a stream of teachings that is carrying you along to a deeper awareness of the power of Life itself, then trust the current you are on to carry you where you need to go. Live, practice and teach from the assurance that life is unfolding— at least at a deep level— in the only way it can today.
Keep the faith.
Oh, and here is Locket.
In the summer of 2014, on a warm evening in the Rocky Mountains of southern Colorado, I found myself engrossed in conversation with Christina Sell. We were in her car in the parking lot of the motel where I was staying during a yoga retreat offered by a well-known Iyengar teacher. Christina too was staying “off campus” and had offered to take me to and from the ranch where the retreat was being held. And so, we rode back and forth together over the course of the six-day intensive.
Sitting in Christina’s car each evening after class, we talked and laughed and talked some more. Connecting tentatively at first, we quickly progressed into deep conversation. Be prepared for the same experience as you open A Deeper Yoga and read. Her words are honest. They are real. They pierce the pristine veneer of how things are often presented in the yoga world. Christina gets right to the heart of the matter. In these pages, she invites you to do the same. A Deeper Yoga is like Christina herself: brave, honest and willing to engage in the occasionally messy process of reflection and introspection. If you allow yourself to be guided by her excellent prompts—for journal writing and personal contemplation—you will find yourself in very unexpected, revealing and enlightened places.
I greatly appreciated our drives together and our parking lot conversations during that Rocky Mountain retreat. We both felt a bit like outsiders at that program. Christina had studied Iyengar yoga for many years but was not a certified teacher in that line, as she was trained in a related yoga tradition. I was a senior-level Iyengar teacher, but one who held an unorthodox approach. We both questioned pretty much everything. And that is what we did, in the car, together. We felt safe in doing so. In your encounter with this book you might feel safe in the same way. Here is a place where you can let your guard down in the company of another. . . a trusted traveler.
On our drives along Highway 160 outside of Durango during that yoga intensive, the conversations traversed a wide variety of topics, yet we talked less about asanas and the various shapes of the poses and more about the bigger picture of how the practice functioned in our lives and relationships. We touched on the many ways in which yoga practitioners give up their personal power and their ability to think critically. We discussed the tendency of many yoga teachers and communities to embrace a kind of group-think, especially the yoga communities that the both of us were brought up in. We acknowledged our own part in all of this, and the complex nature of belonging. We also laid out our struggles with body image, with language, and with our ability or inability to accurately communicate with others about things that are meaningful for us.
The topic of yoga and body image, and concepts of what is or isn’t considered beautiful, are covered in depth in this book. Christina shares her personal story of disordered eating, and the pain that it caused her, in a riveting and compelling way. And she manages to bring her excellent sense of humor to all of it.
Christina can be very funny. In fact, I remember us laughing hard together as we recalled one of the retreat teacher’s comments about body type. To us, those comments reflected a bias toward a certain type, and we laughed because our similar bodies did not conform to what our teacher apparently preferred. Our mutual laughter was helpful and liberating for me. That teacher’s comments could then be considered without heavy emotional reactivity and so provided an opportunity for us to reflect on how our words, as teachers, might not support our chosen values in the way that we think they do.
For me, A Deeper Yoga feels very much like an ongoing conversation, like the ones I loved having on Highway 160 in which Christina and I questioned everything. We were both giving voice to our questions, feelings and perspectives in a tradition that does not (traditionally anyway) tend to value alternative perspectives. Christina has created space for you, the reader, to join in on the conversation and to speak honestly with yourself from a place of strength and vulnerability. She does this throughout her book in a real way—not presenting a pure and pretty depiction of what some people might feel a female yoga teacher should look or sound like. Christina is who she is, as she is, and she writes bravely and truthfully from her heart as well as her gut. These pages are an invitation for you to engage. There space is for you to fill here, and as truthfully as you can.
Christina shares her personal trials and tribulations while keeping a steady eye on the bigger picture. We can do the same. We all experience struggle and connect to each other by sharing these struggles, these stories. As you work with this book you might find yourself surprised—and in a good way—hitting something profound or laughing when you least expect it. Your practice (whether writing or yoga) need not look or sound like anything Christina or anyone else has done: You will be inspired to follow her example, not imitate it. It will be your inquiry. It will be your yoga of integration.
Advanced Praise for A Deeper Yoga
Christina Sell lights the way for yoga teachers and students alike to pay attention to why we do what we do, asking us to consider: Do we want to be perfect, or do we want to be whole? A Deeper Yoga offers a quiet contemplation on how we learn to nurture our spirit and create our own mantra of loving kindness for self. With writing prompts and practice suggestions, she invites us to explore the inner deep of our soul. Christina shows us how to use yoga to embrace the self in a blanket of compassion, love and self-respect. This book offers a beautifully written, thoughtful and candid look at how she found peace at last. — Michelle Marchildon, the Yogi Muse, author of Fearless After Fifty and Finding More on the Mat
The book is exactly what it promises in its title. It is a deeper yoga to ask such profound questions as, “How might your life shift if you were not consumed with body obsession, food addiction or imposed constructs of improvement?” That question alone is a powerful entry point toward yoga’s highest expression, which is freedom through contentment or samādhi. And it reminded me of what I love best about the way Christina writes. Her book is full of similar questions, that can act like keys to unlock every locked door within you. Her path toward a deeper yoga is about making you aware of where you’re stuck and giving you the practical tools to get unstuck. — Dr. Katy Jane, Sanskrit & Vedic studies scholar, meditation instructor & Vedic astrologer; author of Awakening with Sanskrit and Sanskrit for Yogis
Christina Sell is the most effective Hatha Yoga teacher out there, in my experience. She brings that same efficacy to the page. Her written work is not about yoga—it is yoga. This book is an invitation to live the life of yoga, the only life worth living in my world. — Darren Rhodes, author: Yoga Resource
Christina fearlessly names the dangerous cultural narratives and projections of modern yoga and its insidious harm to the practitioner’s psyche and soul when the focus of practice is based solely on outer displays and standards. She invites us toward our own maturation as practitioners, teachers, and imperfect human creatures. We can move beyond the physical practice of yoga and use that same practice as a pathway into deeper intimacy with our thoughts, feelings, behaviors and inner dialogue. Christina’s memoir of wholeness through the direct experience of her body and mind illustrates with warmth and honesty what transforms when yoga and psychology work in partnership on one’s being. Her book is a must-have for contemporary yoga as we know it now. — Livia Cohen-Shapiro, M.A., Registered Psychotherapist
Reorienting us from our “perfect postures” to an experience of the innermost essence of practice, Christina invites us to “detach from media-driven imperatives” to welcome ourselves to the intimacy we’ve been seeking since we unrolled a yoga mat for the first time. Reading this evocative work has me returning to my own mat, with my own innate knowing as my finest guide. It will remain near my mat, pages marked and noted, for the rest of my life. — Elena Brower, author: Practice You and Art of Attention
Christina Sell, devoted student and respected leader in the field of Yoga, has a well-earned reputation for being a knowledgeable, powerful and life-changing teacher. In A Deeper Yoga she delivers a compelling and inspirational perspective of the transformational power of yoga and skillfully explains how yoga teachers and students can access this depth and then also facilitate others’ accessing it for themselves. — Desiree Rumbaugh, Certified Anusara Yoga Instructor and co-author of Fearless After Fifty: How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga
A few weekends ago, I returned to Scottsdale, AZ to teach at Yoga Village, an Anusara yoga studio run by Barbara Adams. I met Desiree Rumbaugh, John Friend and eventually, a world-wide community of practitioners and teachers from my very humble beginnings taking classes and workshops in Scottsdale over twenty years ago. I felt happy and more-than-a-bit nostalgic, upon returning to the area.
In each session of my weekend workshop, students I had taught in the first year of my teaching were in the room, many of whom are now seasoned teachers themselves. In any given session, I looked out and saw people I had known for twenty years sitting with students I was meeting for the first time. I saw long-time students from my Anusara yoga days and folks I had met since terminating my license to teach Anusara yoga, with whom I have weathered the aftermath of that tumultuous time.
And while the landscape of teaching and practice has shifted considerably over the years, and every year in front of the room seems to bring some new challenge or shifting narrative — from social concerns to personal finances and everything else in between, observing the many ways that yoga is still knitting us together inside ourselves and with one another continues to inspire me.
As I have written before, I have made just about every mistake in the book as a yoga teacher. My learning curve has been long and pretty steep at times, taking me through the terrain of my own self-centeredness, anger, jealousy, and insecurity, while also offering me glimpses of the deep humility that lives at the heart of being able to witness other people grow through yogic principles and practice. I often joke (although I am 100% serious about it) that God made me a yoga teacher, not because I was so well-suited to the task, but because I needed to live close to the teaching in order to grow into the position I had been given.
In the words of Papa Peter Rhodes, “God doesn’t choose the qualified, he qualifies the chosen.”
How is one chosen to teach yoga? Essentially, we raise our hand and say, “I will help.”
The way I see it, we live in dark times and the waters of hope, faith, compassion, personal growth, accountability, and service are muddied by competing cultural narratives, unexamined psychological patterns, and even larger cycles of nature. If I were God, Supreme Consciousness, The Universe, Spirit, or whatever name you have for the ALL THAT IS, I would look around and see how much pain there was, how much oppression, injustice, and fear existed in the hearts of even good people and I would give as many jobs as I could to anyone willing to work on the side of Light — be that the light of awareness, the light of generosity, the light of honesty, the light of compassion, the light of well, you get my point.
And while every year brings with it a new specialty within the world of teacher training and a new niche of service to explore and in which to get certified, the path of “getting qualified” of which I am speaking is an experiential training program that anyone interested in helping can enter. Each of us who teaches starts from where we are— full of wounds, projections, hopes, dreams, shortcomings, and talents. And we meet our students where they are, full of the same.
And then the messy magic happens. In the midst of such a meeting, in the field of all of what we are and are not, of what we can do and can not yet do, we hold one another in an uncertain Grace. I say uncertain because this is not the Grace of easy promises, of no hurt feelings, of always being and feeling understood. The teacher-student relationship is as likely to go wrong as it is to go right because while we learn and teach the subject of yoga— from philosophy to posture, from mantra to meditation— we are all just ordinary people, which always makes for a bit unpredictability.
I am not as passionate about big back bends and long, sweaty practices as I used to be, preferring a different approach to asana as I turn 50, than the one I had at 25, 35, and 45. I no longer think that every year I am practicing will bring with it some new asana achievement or some new “next level” of accomplishment. And while some of my students are upset my interests are changing, others like the new direction, happy at last to stop pushing so much. At any rate, as with any relationship, we do not always grow together, grow in the same way, or grow at the same time and none of that means something is going wrong.
One thing I love about getting older is that I am more aware of the long-term game we are playing together than the day-to-day ups and downs inherent in the messy Grace of learning and teaching yoga. Whether our students practice with us over the long haul or find another teacher with whom to share the journey, whether we are on a personal up or down-swing, the opportunity to live alongside the practice and the teachings is a blessing of Light in a time of darkness. Whether our classes are packed or sparsely-attended, whether we make a living as a teacher or not, and whether or not we feel resonant with the latest trend in the industry, each of us raised our hands to help, got chosen, and are spending our days and years getting qualified.
And that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.
Keep the faith.
Many of you have heard me describe myself as a “yoga mutt” when referring to the many streams of asana instruction I have engaged over the years and the diverse sources of spiritual inspiration that inform my practice and teaching.
I have spent time in Mysore halls before the sun rises. I have stood in many a hot room in hardly any clothing practicing the same 26 postures and two breathing exercises in the same order. I have enjoyed creative vinyasa approaches in both practice and classes of all flavors. And yet, the heart of my training and background is what I learned in Iyengar yoga and Anusara yoga, which I now refer to as alignment-based yoga. And, as I see it today, the heart of alignment-based yoga is a relationship with awareness, an exercise in consciousness.
Alignment yoga isn’t about the right and wrong way to do a pose. Alignment yoga is not about a set of nit-picky details, dogmatic protocols, or rigid impositions of outer shapes onto our bodies. Alignment yoga does not guarantee safety and will not necessarily heal an injury or structural imbalance. Alignment-based yoga is no substitute for meditation, pranayama, mantra, psychotherapy, or good common sense.
I have not been living under a rock or shut away in a cave and so I do know that alignment-based yoga is frequently presented through the lens of right and wrong, nit-picky details, dogmatic protocols, rigid impositions, and so on. And, I know alignment-based yoga is often sold as being safe, therapeutic, and meditative.
And, I know that in many cases, it may be all that and more.
These days I am pretty doubtful that I will arrive at some future point in time where my knee and ankle are in an exact line with one another in my front leg in trikonasana. I have yet to sit in that happy place where my sitting bones are perfectly balanced in sukhasana, or where my I can triumphantly lift my chest in tadasana without losing fullness in my back body. And so on. And being a competency-oriented type of person, what I am describing here is not great news on the surface.
Don’t get me wrong. I aim at those alignments and more, but in my years of practice, I have come to see that a “well-aligned pose” is a bit of a moving target. As soon as I establish one action, I lose another. I get the lost action back and something else calls me to tend to it. And on and on the game goes until I leave the pose, start the next one, and the same exercise in futility begins again.
I don’t say “futility” to imply that the pursuit is pointless, that no progress occurs, or to indicate any measure of disillusionment with my practice and what practicing this way has yielded. I say “futility” to pierce through the perfectionistic, competency-driven, type-A expectations that drew me to the alignment-based approach in the first place. As I participate sincerely in this exercise of futility called alignment-based yoga, I am using the alignment protocols— no matter how impossible they may be to achieve perfectly— as a guide. As my guide, these principles give me a mirror upon which to see where I am, where I am not, what is stiff, tight, weak, strong, supple, movable, immovable, and so on within me. I can see my relationship to being both able and not able. I can see my relationship to understanding and confusion.
I can see my relationship to preferences, opinions, rationalizations, limits and boundaries. I can see the ways my body conforms to “common tendencies in the pose” also known “common misalignments.” I can see where, in some cases, the protocols simply do not work for me or my body at a given time and I am beholden to myself, not guiding structures or mental concepts. As my guide, these principles and structures— so often confused with right and wrong, good and bad, and imposing outer standards— have helped me develop an internalized awareness that is personal and empowering.
The act of aligning oneself in yoga requires a relationship with one’s attention. And as we tend to the position of the body, muscular recruitment, the energetics of the biomechanical action, the resultant physical, emotional and attitudinal effects, etc. we are in a field of consciousness that can, over time, open a portal well beyond the shape in which we are taking such an interest. While all that outer maneuvering and inner churning is happening, there is another level of possibility that can be found.
In 2004, I was in Northern India at an Iyengar yoga school in the mountains. One day our teacher, Rajiv Chanchani, looked at us and said, “Here we are, dressed for gym class for an exercise in consciousness.”
Since that time, our gym clothes have gotten a heck of a lot nicer and yet the exercise in consciousness remains the same; the call to attention every bit as potent. When I bring my consciousness to bear on my posture, coupled with my awareness that I am doing such a thing, I am weaving web much deeper than physical position, perfectionistic expectations, dogmatic compliance or rigid adherence to protocols. I am placing myself in a stream that says, “Pay attention because your prana will follow your attention. And as you watch all those details in your body, watch, feel, sense and come into relationship with who is doing all that watching in the first place.”
So, like that.
I never knew the term B-Roll until I started working with Yoga International. A-Roll is content you are used to seeing and what you pay for-- classes, tutorials, courses, etc. B-Roll is all the the stuff that makes its way into promotions and marketing— pics with my dog, weird camera angles, off-script moments.
After filming a series today, we did B-Roll for promotions. In the midst of everything, I was being silly and cracking myself up. Serena, who was in charge of production and who I was meeting for the first time this week, said to the camera folks, “Make sure you get that—Christina cracking up on her mat is the best.”
Anyone who practices with me or comes to my workshops and trainings knows that I spend a lot of time laughing on my mat. As much as I love esoterica, deep mysticism, anatomy and educational theory, I love having fun. And I do make a lot of fun. I make fun of myself, the human predicament, the current culture of yoga, the world-at-large and the circumstances to which culture has delivered us individually and communally.
Tonight is February 13th. Tomorrow is February 14th. Most of you will celebrate tomorrow as Valentine’s Day. I will mark the day remembering my mother who died last year on February 14th, after 6 days in the ICU.
I miss my mother.
Weirdly, I also feel my mom constantly since she died so her absence has brought new meaning to what it means to me miss someone. How is it that missing someone sits right alongside feeling them always with me?
This question, I suppose, is the wonder of human potential.
I used to be interested in human potential as it related to yogic powers, extra-sensory perception, and utilizing 100% of our brain. Somewhere between my 45th year and now (months away from 50) I became more interested in my personal human potential to love, to care, to sacrifice intelligently, willingly and whole-heartedly. I became less interested in ESP and more interested in what it means in practical application to be who I most truly am. And, while I know the thread of “who I most truly am” is a long and winding road to something well beyond my psychology, that very same thread passes through my very human life, my very human psychological structures as well as my very deepest longings of Spirit.
I am a quiet, withdrawn, “do-not-talk-to-unless-you-have-to-before-10am” kind of person. Like, unless there is a fire. (Or, to be honest, unless if I want to talk. I know, the rules are inconsistent, but, well, I contain multitudes...) And while I am funny, charismatic, outspoken, opinionated and prone to long diatribes of story-telling and explanation in my teaching, alone at home, first thing in the morning, I want the world to shut the eff up.
Mom, on the other hand, used to wake up and start talking., She would walk with her walker and an assistant through the house commenting on all the toys Locket had chewed and were left eviscerated in the living room. Then she would talk to the cats who were waiting for her on the kitchen table. (Don’t judge— I have terrible boundaries and I know it.) Then, Mom would talk to Dad and me and Kelly and whoever else might be around. She asked questions like, “What kind of bird is that?” She made comments like, “Look at the deer!” And when we had a rare three days of cloudy weather and she could no longer see the mountains out front, she looked at me and said, “I miss my majesty. I want to see my mountains again.”
"Don’t we all, Mom?" I remember thinking… “Don’t we all?” (Miss our majesty, that is.)
Of course, as life would have it, on February 15th, the day after she died, the house was silent in the morning.
What did I miss most?
I missed her chatter, her laughter, her inane comments and her questions to which I never had very good answers. The same behaviors I was annoyed by every morning were what I missed the most the first day she was no longer with us physically.
My mom’s physical presence was B-roll. She wasn’t the one out front selling content, making a living, insisting on structure, order and common sense at all costs. Mom— especially in her later years— was the one behind the scenes, cracking up on her mat, and finding fun where she could.
Of course, that sense of joy was not always the case.
Her recovery after her second stroke was hard. I witnessed her struggle with walking, which she was never able to do again without assistance. I witnessed her struggle to find her words again and give voice to her ideas and concerns. And, later than I wish, I witnessed the way her quick-witted, highly-verbal, fast-talking and loving family members didn’t slow down long enough to make it safe for her to speak. I witnessed her withdrawal and her depression as she dug deep to make peace with her situation.
I also witnessed her emergence from that underworld.
I saw the ways she came back to life when she and Dad moved in with us a few years ago. I watcher her find joy in the dog, the cats, the mountains, her church, her PT and OT, and the women in her Bible Study group. She also liked my cooking and the homemade ice cream I made for her, but that is probably another story.
The thing is, Mom was the B-roll for our family. She didn’t just talk or ask questions or insist that everything be presented in a neat and orderly way. She cracked herself up. Sometimes she laughed about life. Sometimes she laughed about others. Sometimes she laughed about herself. She had an irrepressible joy and a smile that could light up a room.
I do not mean she was never depressed. I mean, that she never gave up and life never stopped answering her question of how to find joy. In that way, she was super-human.
At the very least, she was a super human.
On the eve of the first anniversary of her passing, after filming some content and some “B-roll” far away from home, I am writing with tears in my eyes and gratitude in my heart for what she taught me while she was alive and for what her living memory continues to reveal to me. Andrea Cheek Frosolono was an exemplary mother to me and my sister, a great wife to my father and a wonderful, reliable friend to many. She lives on in the sound of my own cackling laughter, my commitment to bring joy to life and to “make fun” in the ways that I can and in the numerous contributions she made to those she loved.
One of my friends from high school wrote me after he found out Mom died. He asked me how I was doing. He had lost his dad a year or two earlier. I said, “Well, I am fine. And yet, I woke up this morning and realized this was the first day of my entire life when I didn’t have my Mom.”
He told me, “Yeah. That feeling that something isn’t quite right and that you are missing something you have always had doesn’t really go away. At least it hasn’t for me. But it does get easier to live with. You will get more used to it.”
As I have gotten older, I find promises such as his more meaningful than larger notions of transcendence and “complete recovery.” I don't mind living with a tinge of sorrow remembering my mom because it keeps me tender-hearted. It’s okay that life won’t ever be the same, that I won't ever be the same because who I am growing into is being formed by the whole of life, not just the easy parts. That is the example Mom set, whether she knew she was doing it or not.
Like I said, she was a super human.
And if you have gotten this far into my entry, thank you for staying the course. I have been keeping these entires to 1000 words this last year or so and now I am watching my word count creep up to almost 1400. To paraphrase Mark Twain, "If I had more time, I could have written a shorter blog entry." Thanks for reading and taking time to share your stories with me. Mom's life was a testimony to community and the support that is possible when "two or more are gathered" and I am happy to be gathered with you.
"For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace."
We are experiencing a good snow season in Colorado, which means many of us here are on the local mountains snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and making merry. As I was putting my snowboarding gear away the other day, I glanced over at my mountain bike and felt a bit of nostalgia for riding my bike on the amazing trails we have here. Snow season means no biking. Biking season generally means no snowboarding. Long story short, outdoor sports in Colorado are seasonal endeavors.
Seasonal activities are great because when the spring thaw comes and I am back on my bike, I will feel elated for the return to the trail in much the same way the opening of snow season brings with it a joyful return to the slopes. Each season is made a bit sweeter by time away involved in other pursuits.
Yoga, unlike most sports, doesn’t run by seasons. I am not only talking about the fact that since we practice mostly inside, in temperature-controlled environments, we are not dependent or deterred by weather patterns. I am talking about a stated or unstated imperative that we practice daily, no matter what, maintaining inspiration, enthusiasm, and devotion throughout the process.
Almost every other serious physical endeavor has an off-season and a on-season. Take body builders or triathletes, for instance— they have a season where they bulk up, eat more and gain weight and a season where they slim down, lean out and so on. Many yogi’s expect to exist happily all year round on green drinks and weight fluctuations indicate some loss of discipline or moral high ground. (Don’t go too far down the road on the food or the sports analogy, I am just saying poking a little bit at the unrealistic expectations that often result in shame, self-criticism, feelings of isolation.)
And the double binds are endless— practice daily, but don’t be compulsive; get better at asana, don’t be attached to the poses; make sacrifices for your practice, have a full life.
And so on.
Truth be told, my practice has had very definite seasons over the years. I have maintained a regular practice but certainly not always an inspired one. I have had cycles where the only thing I wanted to do was spend my day working on postures. I have had phases where the topic of poses seemed absurd and irrelevant. I have found joyful connection in the online platforms of social media and I have wanted to throw my phone across the room when I saw someone post a yet another yoga photo.
I have felt strong, supple, and capable. I have felt weak, stiff, and limited. I have felt inspired by the possibility of enlightened community as often as I have felt betrayed, cynical, and hopeless about what can happen when two or more are gathered in the name of yoga. I have loved by body. I have hated it. I have felt good about my practice. I have felt critical about my practice. I’ve had periods of puritanical restriction and periods of bacchanalian indulgence. To be clear, I am not talking about a night or two. I am talking about seasons of each swing on the pendulum.
As a teacher, I have showed up to my classes, workshops and trainings regardless of what my own personal seasonal weather pattern has been. I have done my best and admittedly, my best has varied over the years.
None of my teachers ever talked much about the waxing and waning of their enthusiasm for practice, so I am writing a blog entry to talk about mine in case you are on a downswing of some kind and judging yourself. No matter how you feel, you are not alone-- at least two of us in the world have struggled to accept the seasonal nature of the inner and outer lives of our practice.
There is no single way to sustain a relationship to practice over the course of one's life. My approach might make your life miserable and yours might not work well for me. None of those outer expressions matter so much to me these days. I have come to appreciate what gets built over the long haul, in the cumulative effects of sustaining some connection to practice through the different seasons of my interest and involvement. While there are pivotal moments and threshold experiences that can usher us into new depths, the gifts of the practice are not built in any one practice, class or workshop. In the same way that riding my bike in the spring is made sweeter because of a 4-month break, sometimes my appreciation for asana returns when I allow myself some time away to pursue other activities.
I am on a bit of an upswing with asana these days, finding inspiration and delight through my Asana Junkies webinar and some recent, rewarding teaching experiences. Kelly also re-did my practice space and that change has helped me settle in again. Ever since my move to Colorado, I haven’t liked the space I have had to practice very much and now I love my whole office/practice space scenario. (This is a high-class complaint, I know, but since my practice is 90% solitary and home-based, not studio-based, having a space I like is pretty important. More so than I realized, in fact.)
At any rate, I trust the process this many years in. Sometimes I see my students in the season of zeal and I miss that season. I see other students in the dark night of the yoga soul and I recognize that season from personal experience, although I would be lying to say I miss it. My point is that yoga is a relationship like any other relationship and, after the flush of new love fades, the work of intimacy begins, often marked by a period of conflict, restlessness, and/or boredom. And, as any one who has worked through any of those issues in any of their relationships knows, the seasons of difficulty where things are burning, dying, or laying fallow can become fertile soil for future growth.
And, two practical pieces of advice in closing:
1.) Occasionally, give yourself permission NOT to practice.
2.) Don’t underestimate the power of 15 or 20 minutes to keep your connection to asana alive. The short practice we actually do is way better than the long practice we don’t do.
(Yes, I know, these ideas are sort of “blinding flashes of the obvious.” However, perfectionistic types out there often find these teachings quite difficult to take to heart. You know who you are.)
Keep the faith.
I returned home last night from my second visit to Surya Yoga in El Paso, TX. I had a lovely time with a room full of people of different ages, backgrounds, interests, capacities, and personalities. In other words, the weekend was kind of like every weekend when I go somewhere to teach. And like every class I have ever taught in a yoga studio. No matter what level we say a class is, no matter how we describe a class or a workshop- be it advanced, intermediate, teacher training, or philosophical in nature, every class is a mixture of many things.
We are different ages, different sizes, different shapes and we come with different interests in the practice. In any room, there are different capacities physically, different training backgrounds, different kinds of expertise, and different intentions. Some people want to work big poses, other people want freedom from pain. Some folks have focused their life on yoga, while others have full lives for which yoga is a support, not a central interest. In fact, the variables that might be present in any situation are too numerous to name.
These differences feel overwhelming to me some days. For all of my fiery sassiness, strong opinions, and independent nature, I have a personality that wants everyone to have a positive experience in a class, workshop, or training. Some of that inclination is a sincere desire to help people and some of that tendency lives close to co-dependency patterns like people-pleasing and fear of conflict, etc. I have been teaching yoga since 1998 and I have yet to find a way not to care when someone has a bad experience, misunderstands my offering, or for some reason feels less-than-resonant with what I am offering.
And yet, I have also learned that I am crazy person if I try to meet the divergent, varied needs, interests, and capacities in the room. And look, I write thoughtful sequences, I tell stories of my struggles, I make jokes (some funnier than others) in the hope that humor can dismantle some of the frustrations that inevitably occur in a class or workshop. I do my best. I make mistakes. I get it right and I get it wrong.
Recently I realized that I have made just about every mistake in the book when it comes to teaching yoga, except sleeping with my students. And, I am pretty sure if I had been single when I started teaching yoga, I would have made that mistake also. (Not that being married is any guarantee that a yoga teacher won’t have sex with their students, but that is another entry for another day.) My point is that I have gained most of my insight about practicing and teaching through the school of mistake-making.
I lean very heavily on a teaching from the 12-step communities that says “Take what you can use and leave the rest” and encourage my students to do the same when they take my classes and workshops. Not to be confused with cherry-picking or “taking-only-what-you-like-or-agree-with-or-are-comforted-by,” taking what you can use is a much more nuanced, refined, and complex protocol.
If, for instance, I have a back injury that is aided by a deep lumbar curve and aggravated when that curve isn’t maintained, then poses like malasana, kurmasana, bakasana, and so on, all of which round the spine and move us away from the natural curve of the lumbar spine, are not useful for me physically. However, if they show up in a teacher’s sequence, they might be useful for me in other ways. For instance, I might get a chance to work with preliminary or intermediate stages of the pose or use a different pose all together, which often gives me a chance to practice the postures of self-respect, self-care, and self-honesty. Almost always, my desire to “fit In” and “be like everyone else” and my very valid need for a sense of belonging is going to be worked a little bit when I can’t do what I see others doing.
And, as luck would have it, the challenges also live beyond the poses.
I was in a class one time when a long-legged, slender yoga female teacher made a comment about all the “bulky muscular thighs” that were in the room. Now, while I think she needed a better word that was a little more inclusive with less trigger potential, I made use of that moment to acknowledge and soothe myself by offering myself my own loving support. I had an internal moment where I was able to say (silently, of course), “Wow, she says bulky like its a bad thing….”
My point is that no teacher gets it right all the time. And, no matter how careful we are and well-meaning, the yoga classroom is fraught with potential for upset, misunderstandings, and problems of all kinds. And yet, against all the odds and challenges, amazing transformation occurs, insight dawns, and people come back day after day, year after year to roll out a mat, practice the postures, and engage a process that offers both solace as well as grist for the mill of growth.
I used to think that the classroom was supposed to provide some kind of utopian, corrective experience that would occur when I did it all right and when everyone liked what I offered. I expected the same of my teachers also. And yet, what I have come to know is that while much of the correcting, repairing, and healing many of us need comes through feeling heard, seen, and understood, some patterns are only shifted when we work in what can feel like the photographic negative of those desirable, affirming moments. Oftentimes, something of great value is born when we rise up from within for ourselves in the midst of something that seems (or is) less-than-optimal on the outside.
Not to be confused with tolerating abuse, minimizing dysfunction, pretending we aren’t hurt when we are, or some new-age notion that “no one can rob your joy if you don’t let them,” I am simply talking about a kind of educational environment where as teachers, we continually refine ourselves and our offerings and as students, we empower ourselves to meet the inherent and probable imperfections of group learning with as much clarity and self-compassion as possible.
Of course, there is nothing simple about what I am describing.
We didn’t have a big confrontational weekend or anything. In fact, most people really did seem to like the workshop. I know I had a great time teaching. And yet, these issues are never far from my mind and heart. Every year I teach, I grow more confident and feel more stable in myself and my offering. And, right alongside that deepening, every year I am more aware of all the ways I might miss the mark and the potential harm that might be done.
I often say that most yoga teachers fall into one of two categories. The first category of teachers is the “I have my playlist, I have my cute tights, I have my Instagram account— good luck out there” kind of teacher. I do not personally know any of these teachers I am describing, but I am told they exist by people I believe are trustworthy.
The second category of teachers tends to feel responsible for everyone’s experience being 100% positive, feels the need to not just teach a solid class but to heal injuries, address trauma sensitively, and cover social issues with depth and insight that is also non-divisive and inclusive. This teacher aims to offer a physically challenging-but-not-too-challenging class with philosophical inspiration that is both accurate, ecumenical, non-upsetting and runs no risk of cultural appropriation in a room that is somehow a comfortable temperature for everyone and that is affordable to all while still pays them a living and keeps the studio in business. I could go on for a while, because the list grows longer every year.
So, obviously, teachers in group #1 have to care a bit more. However, teachers in group #2 have to well, calm the fuck down and get real about the inherent limitations of group learning, which is easier said than done for most.
For me, the capacity to calm down as a teacher rests on three primary assertions:
1.)The power of transformation lives beyond “doing it right or wrong.”
2.) The power of transformation is sourced deeper than “people like me or my class or they don’t,” and,
3.) The process in which we are involved together is bound and directed by a Grace that is intelligent, benevolent, and ever-present.
Keep the faith. More soon.
There is a game on Facebook currently that involves posting a profile picture from ten years ago with a current profile photo. From what I can tell, the accompanying narrative involves a consideration of "how well you have aged."
This morning I looked through my profile photos and found the first one I posted in 2007.
I don't have a lot of great face shots from the last few months but I did take this selfie a day ago that can be a decent point of comparison, even though I was right out of the shower and generally my hair does look a tad bit better than how it looks in this picture.
So, Facebook, you ask how well have I aged?
I need glasses to read now, I have more grey hair, more wrinkles, my skin is thinner and looser, and while I weigh about the same, my body composition is surely different and the rate at which my body recovers from activity has changed. Without a doubt, anyone with eyes to see can observe for themselves the visible signs of physical aging I am describing. And look, I moisturize, take my vitamins, exercise, meditate, eat reasonably well and still, my physical body is changing. I am okay with the changes so far.
What I am not sure the photos capture is the inner work of aging well.
I have been lucky to be mentored by wise women since I was a teenager. From counselors and college professors, to 12-step sponsors, friends, students, and colleagues, I have always had friends both older and younger than me. One of my mentors once told me that "Aging gracefully does not happen by itself. If you want to age gracefully, Christina, you will have to work at it."
We live an a culture obsessed with appearances. Of course, this statement is not news to anyone reading this blog. My point is that a zillion times a day, not only are we bombarded with images of beauty that are generally white, young, thin, able-bodied, etc., we are also battered with the message that beauty and appearances are things in which we should invest our time, money, energy and attention. A question such as "How well have you aged?" is resting in a context of youth-centric, appearance-based values, as if continuing to look young, and therefore beautiful, means we are somehow succeeding at the process of aging.
Truth be told, I find that culturally-sanctioned premise shallow and uninteresting. And yet, because of the prevalence of such messages, it seems to me that we do have to "work" a bit on aging gracefully,
A few years ago, I decided not to color my hair as it was becoming streaked with grey and silver because it seemed to me that built into the mechanisms of physical aging are reminders of mortality. Personally, I want a reminder that I do not have all the time in the world to live my life. I want a daily reminder that time is passing and I want to make use of the time I have to live authentically. From grey hair to wrinkles to crepey skin (which I didn't even know was a thing to look forward to until a few years ago!) our bodies are reminding us that they are going to go.
Conventional thinking on aging seems to fall into two primary categories, from what I observe. One strategy that many try is to hide all signs of aging, to ignore the inevitability of aging and death and to, in a variety of ways, shake one's fist at fate saying, "Aging, you won't get me!" The second orientation seems to be a type of resignation that blames aging for an inevitable decline in vitality, capacity, etc.
Aging gracefully, for me, is some kind of middle ground between these two extremes of conventional thinking. The middle ground I seek- and that I witnessed in my many wise mentors over the years- acknowledges the necessary changes and losses that time has brought and will continue to bring, while developing a deeper understanding of Life and Self. For me, how well I am aging, has more to do with who I am growing into and giving expression to, than how youthful I appear. From a yoga perspective, that the body is going to go, is not bad news because the teachings remind us that our spiritual essence, our truest nature, continues after the body dies. Aging gracefully, for me, rests on the promise that I can deepen my connection to that essence and live in an expanding relationship to what is deepest and truest within me.
And look, I don't mean to get too lofty about it. I am just saying that in the twelve years between the two pictures I shared, I have grown a lot. My life didn't get better in twelve years; my life got different. I stopped asking "Who do I want to be?" and setting external goals to improve myself. I started asking, "Who am I?" and found ways to let myself be who I actually am, rather than who I think I should be or who I think others think I should be.
In a lot of ways, on the surface I am a bit less together than I used to be. On the inside, however, I feel like myself more of the time. I am more spacious with the wholeness of who I am-- a caring, compassionate, full-of-fire, opinionated, outspoken, anxious, joyful, funny, and suspicious, etc. person full of flaws and gifts in equal measure. I am quicker to forgive myself and others. I have learned how to ask for forgiveness when I make mistakes and hurt other people. I feel more loving more of the time. I feel loved more of the time. I also stopped worrying when I didn't feel loved or loving, trusting in what is deeper than the inevitable ebbs and flows of my emotional life.
So I have more wrinkles and more grey hair. My body is aging. And my perspectives are maturing and expanding. All in all, a pretty good trade so far.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."