Years ago, my teacher at the time, was facing criticism from the community as his work grew beyond a small group of students into a global network. One of the criticisms—of which there were many— was that his long-term students felt lost in the crowd and were missing the close, personal connection they had shared with him in the early days and upon which his growing empire was founded. Additionally, new students felt disconnected, unseen, and invalidated because, in any given workshop, they were one in a sea of people. They didn’t feel what their teachers described feeling from their early days with him, which also created an emperor’s-new-clothes kind of situation.
More could be (and has been said) about that time, but it seemed to me that as the project grew in scale from a close-knit, bonded group into a world-wide movement, the mechanisms of leadership had failed to adapt effectively, leaving both old and new students hurt and frustrated.
At one conference, attempting to quell this rising tide of discontent, my teacher told the group how he was “there for everybody.”
I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, boy, we are in for it now. There is NO WAY he can be there for everybody. The only way this can end is badly.” Later that week, I begged him to changed his narrative so that he stopped promising something he could not deliver.
I think he wanted to be there for everybody. And I think the scale of his experiment was no longer as satisfying for him without the deeper connections that marked the early days of his teaching work. And while the desire to be there for everybody may have features of a narcissism, I do not think that is the whole story or the singular explanation of what was going on. Not everyone agrees with me on this, obviously.
Instead of making bigger, more impossible promises, I wanted him to start to talk honestly about his limitations and how a larger community can not provide the same things as a smaller community. As a community, I wanted us to understand that, even with such limits, it was possible to have many of our needs met, but probably not all of them. I wanted a discussion that acknowledged a solid yogic education— one complete with spiritual inspiration and community connection— does not require perfection of the teacher, ourselves, or one another.
Of course, that shift in narrative is not what happened.
And I should pause the story to say that my perspectives may be what they are because I personally did not feel abused or traumatized by my involvement with my teacher. He hurt my feelings. I hurt his feelings. We had fights. We had misunderstanding and differing views. I made choices that he probably still sees as a betrayal. And there was a lot of good that passed between us. All those experiences are there in all of their messy glory. And yet I did not feel abused. And I feel like my yoga education was good. Not perfect. But good enough.
Not everyone feels the way I feel and I am sympathetic to the difference in perspective. I am aware that each person involved with this teacher walked away with differing views on the time they spent with him. I want to be clear that in some cases, many people feel that the ethics violations were significant and therefore some of my perspectives are not going to be useful to others because a different set of boundaries— internal and external— may be needed for healing in cases of abuse.
Recently, our minister was preaching about how to bring Love and Oneness to life in our lives by staying in relationship. She described how her family of origin would discuss hot topics, disagree, and fight and yet still were able remain in relationship around a dinner table, as a family. She clarified that Oneness of Heart did not mean not to disagree, but lived in the unity of being a family in the midst of disagreement. Then she said, “I must make a caveat here— In cases of abuse, I do not advocate staying in relationship.”
So like that. In cases of abuse, ethics violations and the like, many of my — or anyone’s— philosophical musings must be applied relative to one’s specific situation. None of this work is easy, simple or one-size-fits-all and it often goes more wrong than right.
However, I am still interested in a vision of yoga that is not anchored in some kind of utopian yoga dream but is, instead, anchored in a paradigm of “good enough.” Of course, depending on who we are, “good enough” can vary significantly, making the whole topic even more daunting to actualize reliably. For instance, for folks with a history of physical abuse who come to yoga, a class “good enough” not to re-injure, and perhaps even provide a healing opportunity, is likely very different than for someone who is not coping with those wounds. Same with race, size, gender, socio-economics, education, physical abilities and limitations, illness, health, addictions, etc. And yet, part of the utopian yoga dream (as I see it) is the expectation — conscious or unconscious— that one approach, one class, one set of cues to give or to avoid giving, can somehow address the myriad of needs that exist in any given community of practitioners.
I recently had a discussion with a colleague who outlined a vision for a yoga that was inclusive, politically-active, trauma-sensitive, egalitarian, and more. I nearly had a panic attack hearing the description because I knew there was no way my public classes and workshops could or would meet such a standard. Even if I was doing my best to meet the high standard outline-- and to be clear, I try to do a good job-- there would be people walking into my classroom who, despite my best efforts, would eventually feel hurt, ignored, unseen, unable, and left out— some of which would be my fault due to my unconscious patterns and biases and some of which would be due to theirs.
I think we probably need to do better as teachers and as an industry and there is certainly room for improvement and clarity. I am not discounting that reality. Issues abound. And I think naming problems for what they are is important so we know where to apply our efforts toward improvement.
And, as time goes by, the less I have come to expect yoga will provide. The asana practice has been great form of awareness, physical expression and discipline for me. I also love to hike, bike, and paddle a kayak. As much as I love asana, it does not satisfy me completely as my sole physical activity. And while I have had very few chronic injuries from asana, I also go to bodyworkers of all kinds to help with my aches, pains, unique tweaks and peculiarities. For instance, when my hip hurt, I had an MRI and the thing that helped the most was a shot of anti-inflammatories, not yoga therapy. I have found immense psychological resources in the teachings and practices of yoga. I also have a great psychotherapist. I find some of the yoga philosophy enriching and inspiring. I also go to church, read across disciplines and truth be told, at the end of the day, right now I find more solace in contemplative prayer, time in nature, being with my dog, and writing in my journal than I do in the average dharma talk, church service or yoga class. Some of my favorite people are my yoga friends, students and colleagues and I have found that having friends who don’t care about anything yoga to be immensely valuable, oftentimes possessing a practical, unencumbered wisdom that can be hard to find in spiritual communities so often bogged down in right’s and wrong’s. I have profound gratitude for my teachers and yet, I have found that they are all human, they do not always see me in my best light, and they have each, at some point along the way, hurt my feelings.
I don’t teach asana because I think it is everything anyone needs for a happy, healthy, meaningful life wrapped up in one package. Perhaps, because so much of my public life revolves around my work as a teacher, asana may appear elevated beyond what it is for me— an important facet of the diamond of my full life expression. I think that, as important as it is, as much as I invested in asana and yoga philosophy over the years, the value of these pursuits in my life today exist more in relationship to the other facets of my life than in the totality or singularity of their expression. But let's face it, most of you know me because of yoga, not because I love my dog, I am a good cook, I help my parents, I have a wicked sense of humor, I like alpine lakes, I have a great art collection, and so on. The parts of my life that fill in the fullness of who I am are not as publicized as the backbends, arm balances and teacher trainings. And the fuller the other areas become for me, the more a yoga that is good enough is well, good enough.
All right, more could be said, but I have been wanting to keep these blog entries shorter, not longer and this is now right at 1500 words so I will sign off for now.
“The cure for pain is in the pain.
Good and bad are mixed. If you don't have both,
you don't belong with us.”
I am making my way home from fantastic weekend teaching in Portland, Maine. This was my third visit to Lila East End Yoga, which is run by the lovely, dynamic Genell Huston. Genell has had the studio for seven years and grown it into a vital community of practitioners and teachers and it was a pleasure to step into the room to teach.
Genell and I know each other through our shared background in Anusara yoga. We developed a closer relationship through my Asana Junkies webinars. Talking about Anusara yoga can be a bit like that story of a bunch of people gathering around an elephant, each touching a different part and describing something different. These days, I do my best to see what each person’s perspective is/was rather than argue for the tail, the trunk or flank as being the total reality of the beast.
In fact, come to think of it, talking about yoga— particularly with a large audience online— is also a bit like that story. Depending on style, geographic region, primary teachers, body-type, gender, race, religious background, psychological disposition, socioeconomic situation, and so on— as this list is not intended as an exhaustive enumeration of all the variables at play— one’s direct experience with the practice, as well as the industry, varies considerably.
I am happy about the education I got in Anusara yoga and I lean fairly heavily on what I learned there in my teaching work. And I have grown a lot over the years, which has changed my perspectives in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways. One freedom I now enjoy in teaching is a sense that the alignment I am suggesting through my cues, sequencing and explanations is a starting point, not an ending point. Rather than needing any one cue to be “right” or “wrong,” I am much more interested in said cues being a doorway into awareness and personal exploration. I now see the alignment as something there to serve me when I practice and my students when I am teaching, not something I am supposed to fit myself or others into. Generally, most cues have some value for some people some of the time. And by the same token, many cues have problems for many people much of the time. Like the razor’s edge, one can fall off either side.
Increasing the difficulty further, is that some cues work well for a period of time and lose their utility and even cause injury when we continue to implement them past the point when what they were intended to do has been accomplished. One of the best ways to create injury in our bodies is to work like a beginner— big actions, big movements— once we are intermediate or more advanced students. Many a stiff-hamstringed person has benefitted in uttanasana by bending their knees and working to increase the forward tilt of the pelvis. Many a loose-hamstringed person has weakened their muscles that way.
Another difficulty is that we do not always get the feedback from our actions immediately in yoga. Sometimes the way that we are working, or the poses we are doing, or even the perspectives we are cultivating, take years to register as problematic. Where I used to see so many of the principles of alignment—physical and attitudinal— as guarantees for safety, I now see them as our current best, well-informed guess to go with. My new perspective requires me to be willing to shift my way of thinking and working in poses when feedback comes in that my best guess had some flaws or opportunities for refinement. You know, to be, uh...flexible.
Seems like its taken almost 20 years in the seat of the teacher to feel comfortable with a yoga with fewer mandates and directives. And I have made every mistake in the book along the way from power struggles about alignment with my students, to unnecessary, unproductive criticism of myself and others, to passing along rigid dogma and beliefs to trainees who I am sure have passed it along to others. I could go on as the process has not been smooth or easy.
I have also helped people along the way, which I am also clear on. While the process hasn’t been smooth or easy, I have been in good company, blessed with great students, colleagues and opportunities. And yet, there is something sobering about teaching and knowing I can only teach from where I am. And sometimes, even when doing my very best, my best is not very much and my limitations have less-than-desirable consequences. And the only way to overcome these limitations is to walk through them step-by-step, day-in-day-out, year-by-year and summon the courage to keep learning, growing, offering, and owning up to it all— the ways it goes well on my mat and in the classroom, as well as the ways what I do misses the mark.
Today I see the value in my own journey of passing through the stage of do’s and don’t, right’s and wrong’s. Those structures gave me a scaffolding for a lot of years that helped me engage my practice with boundaries and parameters that helped me focus and channel my energy and attention. I know in my heart-of-hearts that I could not have started where I am now and so I don’t feel ashamed or angry about the way I have traveled the path. And I hope that 20 years from now, this current juncture which feels healthy and integrated to me, will be a place upon which I look back and go, “Wow, I have grown so much since then.”
I suppose these musings are on my mind because the room this weekend was filled with folks with whom I grew up in Anusara yoga. Perhaps these ongoing, remaining connections are the best blessing that came from my formal affiliation with Anusara yoga for all those years. It certainly seems that way to me now.
At any rate, like I said in class over the weekend— Yoga is an both/and proposition, not an either/or endeavor. Of course, both/and may not always be at the same time. Much life like, the good comes with the bad, the difficulty with the ease, and occasionally, often in retrospect, I can feel the Grace in all of it.
May passed in a whirlwind of activity and changes. Locket and I drove to Texas for my final final intensive at The San Marcos School of Yoga. I turned forty-eight years old. I packed up the house and studio and met the moving truck. Locket and I drove back to Colorado. Kelly and I celebrated our 20-year wedding anniversary. The moving truck unloaded our things and I have been unpacking and reorganizing my belongings. In the midst of that, I said many good-byes, taught a lot of yoga, gave several interviews, spent more time socializing than I have in ages, and managed to paddle my kayak a few times, plant a garden, ride my bike, and take a few hikes with my dog.
And, as I result of this last month, I am five days into my new practice--The After-lunch Lie-Down. This is a simple practice, really. The protocol goes as follows: Eat lunch, clean up and then lie down. That is pretty much it. No phone, no book, no TV, just lie down. Sleep or not. Enjoy it or not. No matter. Just lie-the-eff-down.
I recommend a bed or a reclining chair, where you are unlikely to be disturbed, but any horizontal surface will do. In fact, you could do this practice on a yoga mat and it would fulfill the #yogaeverydamnday requirement, to which so many people feel beholden. I set a timer for thirty minutes and stay horizontal the whole time. So far, I have had no trouble completing the entire period. Once, I even stayed for a full hour. Another day, I did ninety minutes. Locket often joins me, making the time even more enjoyable.
I used to think that with all the therapy, spiritual practice and inner work, my Type-A, slightly-compulsive, competency-driven personality would somehow fall to the wayside, revealing a laid-back, go-with-the-flow kind of person who could relax into the rythms of life with equanimity and equipoise. Well, anyone who knows me knows that outcome has yet to manifest. Now, I mostly endeavor to stop fighting my tendencies and put them to use in my own favor.
See, as a fiery-pitta type, I don’t just rest. I kick rest’s ass. I make a plan. I set a timer. I put it on a list. I make it a thing. I get my dog involved. I write a blog entry about it.
So, there you go.
This is what it has come to, friends. I turned 48-years old and adopted a napping practice.
Maybe I could start an instagram challenge. #naptime #napeverydamnday
Maybe Sleep Number beds would sponsor it or those groovy mats with crystals in them. I suppose we would also need some kind of special pillow to optimize results. Maybe an eye-wrap of some kind and certainly, the essential oils folks could get in on this game. We could have a Spotify playlist for the #bestmusicfornapping. We could have a festival, or at least an online summit of some kind to share how awesome it is to actually stop and lie down.
So many possibilities.
But all that planning makes me tired.
I need a nap.
For those of you still reading and interested in my next online program, check out the details on Finding Depth in the Basics: Techniques for Napping Well. Oh, no. that is not it— we are going to focus on forward bends and hip work this summer. Our first meeting is June 14th and registration is open.
Working on the basic poses is not “easy” or even “beginner-oriented” in this course. We are exploring the depth of attention, focus and precision that can come in and through building block poses and principles. If you like Asana Junkies you will like the strong asana-oriented focus of this course. If you stayed away from Asana junkies because you hated the name or it was too advanced or intimidating, this course is a great one to join. Nothing showy or big, just good old-fashioned work on the basics in good company.
Oh-- and for those of you who asked me about my November Asana Intensive at Mt Princeton Hot Springs, the housing information is now posted online.
More soon. (Once I wake up.)
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