A few months ago, I went to a workshop with my long-time Iyengar yoga teacher, Manouso Manos. On the first night, he looked out at the room full of people and said, “I have known many of you in the room for over 20 years. That says a lot about the subject of yoga.”
Manouso’s opening words have stayed with me since he spoke them, reminding me how important it is, as a teacher, to put the subject in the center of the room. Manouso is a dynamic, charismatic and inspirational teacher, whose ability to command attention is unparalleled.
And yet, he didn’t say, “I am so glad that due to my intelligence and passion, I have kept you interested in being in the room with me for over twenty years.” There is a lot to consider in his perspective.
I spent the weekend in Montclair, New Jersey at Yoga Mechanics where I had the opportunity to teach a workshop to many long-time practitioners, many of whom I have known almost 15 years and who have known each other that long as well. Without diving too deep into the saga of Anusara yoga, (I mean, if you want to do that, all the information is a google search away, so have at it.) I do believe that I got a great yoga education in Anusara yoga. More importantly, I believe I was introduced to a network of practitioners who are some of the finest people I know. As time goes by, workshops like this weekend provide me with evidence of the compelling nature of the subject of yoga and the binding nature of relationships founded in the recognition and celebration of Grace.
Clearly, not everyone feels the same way about their experiences in Ansuara yoga. Obviously there were, and are, shadow elements galore. And, to be honest, not all of my relationships have stood the test of time. All that is fine with me. Painful in certain instances, but okay. I believe that the strength of a community lives, not just in shared vision and commonality, but in its capacity to hold the tension of disagreement and different perspectives without crumbling. I don’t think the work is easy— many of us have old patterns about belonging and unconscious programs that equate agreement with love and acceptance and conformity with connection. Unravelling those knots can take time and the process often gets messy.
And, as many of you know, a year before I resigned my license to teach Anuasra yoga, my guru passed so my reflections on spiritual community, guru’s, power structures and the like, have been informed by watching that process unfold as well. And interestingly enough, in the last five years the online narrative around yoga has grown increasingly critical, in many cases, for good reasons.
And yet, for me, the subject of yoga remains fascinating. I continue to enjoy learning and practicing. The “Who’s Who” of yoga, the “10 Cues to Never Give,” the “50 Ways You Can Hurt Yourself in Yoga,” and the “Gurus Behaving Badly” stories are not particularly fascinating to me. On one hand, I do think that the movement away from magical thinking, the sober cautions of yoga’s risks and the testimonies of smart people who got swept away in group thinking, power differentials and abusive situations, are an important part of our modern commentary. Precious little information is out there for new students to help them navigate the world of yoga with discernment and clarity. And as important as that educational process is, I do not see that as the subject itself. The subject remains fascinating to me because my practice continues to work for me.
I do not mean that my practice “works” in such a way that I am always happy, never without an ache or a pain or that I live in the ever-present recognition of God. I mean that the tools of awareness work to take me into greater self-knowledge and to hone my clarity about what perspectives and actions expand my consciousness and which narrow and limit. Yoga is an interesting subject, in part, because we are never apart from the study. And as an experiential subject, the study comes alive in practice, not in theory. And the efficacy of the practice has many dimensions to consider. Truly, the work is never boring. (Well, except when it is a little boring, but even that is a doorway to greater knowledge. But I digress.)
In terms of asana, I suppose I am fortunate as the education I received didn’t do damage to my body and I continue to feel strong and able through the methods I have studied. I guess I might feel differently if the outcomes of my asana studies had resulted in diminished physical capacity. Like with so many things, each person comes with a unique perspective and vantage point. For me asana has always been a bit of an experiment and I mostly practice alone so a lot of the bad cues, poor adjustments and issues of modern yoga classes haven’t been part of my journey. And there are plenty of poses I sit out and don’t work on at all since they are simply not so great for me or worth what appears to be the risk.
But what is really most on my mind from my weekend with so many long-term companions on the path is that while you could not pay me to teach a “method” of yoga anymore, I remain committed to exploring the relationship between effort and Grace that lived at the core of my initial and ongoing interest in Anusara yoga all those years ago. I met John Friend shortly after I met my guru, Lee Lozowick. At that time, John was in the flush of love with Gurumayi Chidvalasanda— and even though all kinds of upsetting stories have emerged from that tradition— I remember that time as a time pregnant with spiritual force. For me, the work in Anusara dove-tailed nicely with my work with Lee, as Grace was Lee’s primary teaching as well. It was a lovely synchronicity and continues to occupy a spacious room in my heart.
So while I am not interested in the licensing aspects of a method and such, I am also not interested in a yoga that doesn’t put Grace in the forefront of my awareness. As time goes by, my understanding of Grace, God, and the Guru is evolving and integrating in a way that feels more internal and mature, and yet, there is a current of Love with which I am interested in aligning and those teachings are the doorway to that state for me. Probably, there are other equally effective doorways. And probably, those doorways are ineffective means for some people. That seems logical and lawful to me. I no longer see practice as a one-size-fits-all endeavor but a process of learning to recognize and identify who I actually am and to detach from my more limited notions of who I think I am. I want that discernment for others also.
That is the subject of yoga. Self-Knowledge. I know other things are billable and sexy and exciting and come with the same name. Some of those things seem harmless, some seem quite misleading and even potentially dangerous. But what is clear to me is that after over 20 years in the game, as much as I love asana, as much as I love anatomy and as much as I love the work of teaching, those aspects are most interesting to me when they are nested in the recognition and expression of a current I have come to know as Grace.
That is it for today.
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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."