I spent last weekend in Denver, Colorado teaching at Practice Yoga and Reiki School. Chris Muchow, the fearless leader of Practice invited me to teach and I was looking forward to it for months. When Chris and I discussed content for the workshop we settled on a theme called "Break Through, Don't Break Down" and we decided that I would emphasize progressive techniques for safely, intelligently advancing one's asana practice. (I am actually offering a similar workshop in St. Louis this spring at Southtown Yoga so check that out if you want to come!)
Anyway, Chris got a great group of people signed up and we were having so much fun and the whole thing was going well except for this cough that kept persisting. By lunch, I was hoarse. By the afternoon I was almost voiceless. By Sunday, I was in bad shape.
So I did something that I have never done in all the years I have taught workshops-- I cancelled the day. I went to the doctor, was diagnosed with an acute case of laryngitis, viral bronchitis and so on and I was sent home with strict instructions not to speak for at least 3 days! So, the cool part of the story is not that I couldn't teach the workshop, and not that I cancelled my Monday webinar and my Tuesday webinar and that I stayed at my parent's house while Kelly had his birthday party without me. No, the cool part of the story is that Chris was a yogi in action with an amazing "this is no problem" attitude and Patrick, Livia and Joyce (all members of the Asana Junkies Clan) stepped in to co-teach one of our Asana Junkies sequences. And my webinar folks were gracious about the scheduling snafu. And Sam subbed the local Junkies practice. And so on.
While I was very disappointed that I couldn't finish the workshop and I was bummed to be sick, I was very inspired that people stepped up and into the challenge to support me and to support each other in carrying on with the plan in some form. It was a great testimony to the power of community and to prioritizing practice over personality. It is very heartwarming to be held in such grace by a group of people.
For the 3 sessions that I was there at Practice I did my best to keep the teachings and the experience as grounded and down-to-earth as possible and centered around the awesome lessons we can learn on our sticky mat and in the asanas. As much as I love Big Vision and as much as I love to consider Enlightened Possibilities and as much as I love a good working metaphor, I am on a somewhat mundane track these days. I am not so sure its going to sound so great on a brochure but honestly, I think I have a bit of High Aim Fatigue.
On some of the marketing materials at Practice, Chris has quoted Pattabhi Jois' very famous quote, "Do your practice. All is coming." I hear yogi's say that a lot and it is often quoted as a kind of reassurance that if you keep practicing, the poses will come, we will improve, we will be able to bind in Maricyasana 4, we will be able to put our leg behind our head and that all will work out great. I am not so sure that is what it means. That is not what it means to me, at any rate.
What I take from that often-quoted sutra is simply what it says: Do your practice because ALL is coming. Life is bringing it all to us-- heartbreak, betrayal, good times, bad times, sickness, health, misery, joy, love, death, birth and so on- and a steady asana practice isn't going to stop life from happening. Asana, yoga, faith, friends, religion, philosophy, a great therapist, etc. does not guarantee a life without all of the bells and whistles of experience. I have been somewhat outspoken about this over the last few years and so you might be tired of hearing about it from me by now but the longer I practice and the longer I teach others about yoga, the more clear it becomes to me that yoga doesn't spare us from life, from life's challenges, from the consequences of our own choices or the even from the unfortunate, painful, random accidents of fate.
What practice gives us is the ability to practice. What sustained practice gives us is sustained practice. To some degree, yes, I think practice helps us dodge a few bullets simply because we might be in a stream where we are more likely to be making life-affirming choices and such conscious choices often diminish a certain kind of self-destructive outcome. But, let's get real, most of us do yoga because we need to practice the teachings, not because we are all so naturally honest, compassionate, free of greed, jealousy, envy and so on. We get a chance, through our various practices, to assert a higher ideal in the midst of our lives and in the midst of our initial reactions to life's circumstances. We get to practice the teachings.
So, to me practice is its own reward because as much as I would like a guarantee that the spiritual path would spare me from pain, the truth is that I do not practice for that reason. I practice so that I am in a certain stream of perspective. That stream does not influence what comes my way but I do feel that being in that stream influences how I respond to what life gives me from a conscious vantage point.
Sri Brahmananda Saraswati said that we do not need to practice every day but when we need our practice, we are going to wish that we had been practicing every day. So, if I have been in the stream of practice regularly, when the ALL comes my way, I am predisposed to regard it from a vantage point that will grow me. If I am in a different stream and the ALL comes my way, I will feel victimized, reactive and often cause myself and others agony on top of that which the circumstance has brought with it.
Anyway, like always, more could be said but I am going to sign off. I am at SFO airport getting ready to head to Japan.
We had another amazing weekend down in San Marcos with the 2nd Annual Light of the Spirit Intensive. We began on Thursday and did 2 full days of very strong asana practice. Over the weekend we had morning asana classes and then class/satsang with Manorama during the afternoon. It was a really amazing time.
One of the the things I most appreciate about Manorama's teaching is that she takes a lot of time to actually outline and speak to the optimal context to have as student and practitioner of yoga. Last year when she was here she said to the group very clearly, "There is the subject and there is the study of the subject. You study the the subject AND you have to study how to learn the subject." It reminded me of how I teach people in Teacher Training that part of what we are doing as teachers is teaching people yoga and part of what we are doing is training them how to take our class. For instance, if we want a certain learning environment to occur, we have to train people to participate in our class and how to benefit from our presentation. If we use demos or if we want silence, etc. we have to train people in the those protocols since rarely do our students come to us knowing what we expect from them. (Believe me, I learned this one the hard way.)
So, part of learning the subject of yoga and approaching the subject of Sanskrit is to establish ourselves in an honest, kind, compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves. While tapas and fire is sometimes required, it seems to me that the inner work of yoga simply does not respond well to force. In fact, Manorama said "should's are the surest way to sabotage your practice." I watch this a lot these days where so many people have access to so much information about yoga that there are longer and longer lists about how we "should" be practicing and all the things we "should" be doing to be great yogi's. And while I think the education is amazing, I also watch a kind of perfectionistic overlay occur. For instance, someone asked me a question about when it is best to practice headstand. They had read that Mr. Iyengar said it is best to practice it in the morning when your mind is fresh and they wanted to know my thoughts on that teaching.
It is always funny to me when I am asked to give commentary on Mr. Iyengar's teachings because I hold him and his wisdom and experience in the highest esteem. I chuckle when people ask me if I agree with him on issues or not because I consider him such a high authority on the subject of yoga. Having said that, I must say that when we consider some of his teachings- like when it is best to do headstand- we have to look to his context and apply these teaching relative to our context, not his. What do I mean? Well, a teaching like "headstand is best practiced in the morning while your mind is fresh" assumes several things:
1.) your mind is fresh in the morning which is not the case for all of us.
2.) you have the morning free from making PB&J from your kids, from commuting to work, etc.
3.) you have the whole day open and malleable so that you can organize your schedule around making the best headstand possible.
While these things may be the case for some of us, most yoga practitioners that I know have very different circumstances as householders so that kind of advice becomes a "should" and it thwarts their efforts. I see students not practice headstand at all since it can't be done in the morning. (Or fill in the blank about whatever perfect standard gets in the way for you.) So do I agree with him? Sure, I mean he is the master. Who am I to "disagree" with him? Do I implement that teaching or tell others that they should? No. I do not not make an issue of that kind of advice because the best time for headstand for most of us is whenever we can fit it into our day. Our context of implementation is different than the context of that advice.
Lee used to say that "Context is Everything" and it was a multi-faceted teaching to be sure. But think about it--there is tons of content about yoga. Tons. Thousands of years of content. To make use of any or all of that information, we have to stay close to ourselves, to own context for practice, our own reasons for engaging the Teachings and we need to be clear about the context that teachers have for what they are saying when they are saying it. Yoga, as a pathway to the experience of totality is going to have to say everything. Sometimes intensity is required. Sometimes yielding is required. Sometimes activity, sometimes rest. If you gather a bunch of Lee's students around and interview them about "What Lee Said" it is pretty hilarious because he told different people different things at different times.
The "Lee Said" game is an exercise in futility if you are looking to getting the content to be consistent. But his context never wavered. He had one message: Life As It Is is the Master. Be a student of That. (In fact, he said he was a Slave to that flow but that is a strong teaching that needs a lot of unpacking and might best be reserved for anther day.) The context is that whatever is happening is the teacher. Now, how we might respond to whatever is happening has a variety of permutations and might look very different across the spectrum of time, personality and circumstance. And since we are never absent from the practice of yoga, a lot of our ability to sustain our efforts over time has to do knowing ourselves and not over-reaching.
As always it was great to spend time with Manorama and lean into her context a bit. Another fun thing was the intensive was small. We had 12 people or so for the first 2 days so I did the asana with everyone and we went very deep into things. We doubled in size for the weekend which was still a very intimate gathering. It's a rare circumstance these days to be in such close company and it felt very old-school to me. And yet, well, it seems the old school may just be the new school. Next Practice Intensive is in May. Asana Junkies-style which means sequence review followed by guided group practices for 4 days.
I had a great weekend in Tucson teaching and intensive Darren. I have sort of hit the ground running since I have gotten back. My Spring Intensive with Manorama starts tomorrow. We have two days of strong asana before she gets here and shares the weekend with us teaching sanskrit, or as I like to say, Teaching Life through the lens of language. I always LOVE studying with her and we have a lovely group assembling.
I thought it might be fun to share a few scenes with everyone from Asana Junkies Practice Club. We are well into things now at week #8 and have been steadily building on the base that we started with. This is a strong back bending day.
For those of you just now finding out about Asana Junkies, each week we work with a slightly different sequence with different emphasis and have a group webinar call where I answer questions, review the sequence and discuss whatever issues are up in terms of the group and asana practice. Then everyone goes their own way- some individually, some in practice groups where they are to work with the sequences. I also give 90 minute, 60-minute and 30-minute versions so there is no need to do everything or to practice the 2-hour sequence only. I film clips from my group practice and we keep working on our mats and also do a fair amount o f sharing progress and problems via the online forum. This has been a super fun thing for me and so rewarding to hear the reports from people about how their practice is deepening, improving and becoming more meaningful.
standing back arch
anjaneyasana back bended
eprk upright with back bended upper back
eprk with quad stretch
*supta virasana push up to straight arms as though prepping kapotasana
back bends- 60 minutes
chataranga to up dog
dwi pada viparita dandasana
Headstand drop over OR headstand OR dwi pada viparita dandasana
UD to kneeling/ustrasana
urdhva dhanurasana to tadasana
drop backs/drop back practice
Backbend vinyasa-- Any or all-- this lifetime or next--headstand drop over to urdhva dhanurasana to tadasana to urdhva dhanurasana to dwi pada to headstand
Adho mukha parsva vajrasana
adho mukha sukhasana
For more scenes from our group practice, check out our You Tube Page: http://www.youtube.com/user/cowboyyogi.
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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."