I got home from Atlanta late on Sunday night and spent most of yesterday getting my feet back on the ground: practicing asana, grocery shopping, making kicharee, etc. Looking ahead today and it looks like more of the same along with prepping for my Asana Junkies Webinar tomorrow.
The weekend in Atlanta was great for me. There are several themes that are the most present for me in my practice and teaching these days. They are interrelated, of course and constellate around Self-Love, Life as the Teacher, Yoga as Education, and Discernment. I think the title of my weekend had to do with practice but mostly I wove these themes into my talks and teachings.
I have become very clear on the fact that many people who are practicing yoga these days are very hard on themselves. And when the context behind the yoga is one of self-crticism, harshness, self-judgement and condemnation we will most likely hear the teachings through those filters and the yoga will serve as a weapon in our arsenal for the war we are waging on ourselves. Verbal corrections become proof that we are not good enough, the more flexible person next to us shows us that we are stiff and therefore not good enough, the community's closeness only make us feel out of place and different and the challenging postures we struggle with become proof that we actually lack the ability to do yoga, etc. Even the inspiring teachings of compassion begin to show us how judgmental we are, the teachings of oneness only remind us how separate we feel and the testimonies of faith only augment our feelings of doubt and fear.
I think of these states of mind and heart a bit like the "dirty little secret" in yoga right now. While the yoga teachers are up in the front of the room waxing on about how asana is a "celebration in and through the body" and how classes give us a way to "be a part of the community of the heart" and how practice helps us "live in the constancy of the Spirit" many of the students in the classroom are feeling awkward, stiff, tight, uncomfortable, apart-from, different, out-of-place, alone and afraid. While we teachers go on about "not comparing", there our students often stand, comparing themselves to those around them and practicing asana mired in self-hatred for the size of their thighs, the tightness in their legs or the fill-in-the-blank- about whatever their particular thing is. And to make matters worse the student now feels bad about comparing themselves to others since the teacher just said they shouldn't do that in yoga!) In the effort to be inspiring and to paint a big picture of Possibility, we, as teachers sometimes fail to cover the fine print adequately.
And the fine print of yoga is that it often teaches us virtue through the direct experience of the virtue's opposite. We are in the world of duality, of pairs of opposites, of hot and cold, of day and night, of light and dark, of joy and sorrow, of good days and bad days, of "I can" and "I can't" and so on. And while, yes, I believe there are moments where Grace carries us, where God does for us what we can not do for ourselves, I think there are even more moments where we are called to the nitty-gritty work of cultivating the virtues we seek. I have never once been "granted" patience by some unseen hand of God but I have been stuck in more than one traffic jam and more than once I have waited longer than I wanted to for a goal to come to fruition or for a prayer to be answered. Think about it-- we simply can not learn patience quickly. Learning patience has to take time.
So, the thing about yoga as the teacher of self-love is that it is, many times, going to teach us how to love ourselves by making us very aware of the ways that we don't love ourselves so much. (Now, before I go too far down this road one must also keep in mind that yoga does many times grant us a "pink cloud" where, for many months or years we simply LOVE yoga. We fall in love with our breath and the majesty of moving in sync with this deepest of rhythms. We feel accepted by a group of people and part of a clan for the first time ever. We get glimpses of a place of deep quiet, of profound inner sanctity and of a kind of serenity that we never dreamed was possible. So yes, all that does happen and for some, they get a lot of that right away. So I am not discounting that aspect. It is a very real phenomenon for many. Not for everyone but for many these experiences are the very thing that hooks them into the practice. Lee used to say, that in the beginning the Guru, Grace, the Teachings carry the sadhaka or practitioner.)
Okay, so if you had the pink cloud great. If you are still on it, enjoy yourself, the pink could is a wonderful ride. But if you are wondering why the thing you loved and helped you love yourself a few years ago--yoga- is now the thing with which you beat yourself up and over which you suffer, don't worry. That is the second part of Lee's teaching. "In the beginning you are carried," he said more than once. "But after a while, you need to learn to carry yourself." So life starts to teach us through these most wonderful pairs of opposites. We learn trust and through betrayal, forgiveness through anger, love through hatred, and these opposites carve within us the most beautiful patterns and textures and reveal over time our depth of character and quality of Being.
So love isn't some pink cloud kind of experience only. While sometimes love is nice and sweet, other times love will kick our ass. Remember, we asked yoga to teach us about Reality. All of Reality. That is big. We asked yoga to teach us who we really are, not just about the parts we like. (Another big request, by the way.) So a yoga practice or class aimed at the high mark of "teaching love" can not be only easy. If every pose was achievable, how would we face up to who we are when we can't do something? If every class went exactly according to our preference, how we would face up to who we are when we don't get our way? If we never had a fight, how would learn reconciliation? If we never got our feelings hurt how would we learn to examine our triggers, to claim responsibility for our reactions, and to forgive ourselves and each other? While I think yoga gives us a safe-haven and provides us with shelter from the storms of life, I think, by definition, at times yoga has to become the storm in order to do the job we asked it to do for us.
So anyway, more could be said, but that's enough for today.
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