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.
“Consciousness, which tends to contract,
expands when a group of people come together with a common aim.”
— Paul Muller Ortega *
I spent last weekend teaching a 3-day intensive with my long-time friend and colleague, Darren Rhodes, at his yoga studio, Yoga Oasis. We have taught over 1000 hours of teacher trainings together and countless intensives and workshops. In many ways, Darren and I grew up together in yoga, first meeting almost twenty years ago in Anusara yoga workshops with John Friend. As I have written before, Darren and the Yoga Oasis community are a vital part of who I am as a practitioner and teacher. I always learn a lot about myself, about the larger implications of my practice, and about the shared journey of yoga when I visit Yoga Oasis.
After Darren and I resigned our licenses to teach Anusara yoga, we explored the possibilities of continuing to teach collaboratively. As it became clear we were taking different directions in our teaching work, we stopped teaching together. A few years ago, I pitched the idea of a yearly team teaching weekend to Darren. He agreed. This year was the second annual weekend called “The Work.”
I first heard the term, ‘The Work” from Lee Lozowick, my spiritual teacher, in reference to The Fourth Way teachings by G.I. Gurdjieff. I am not a formal student of the Fourth Way, but I have been around its principles and practices for many years. Same with Darren. More could certainly be said about that another time.
As is usually the case at Yoga Oasis, the room was full of seasoned, sincere, passionate practitioners and teachers willing to dive deeply into self-observation, self-reflection, and self-awareness. Last year, our workshop ended with a strong discussion about how work on, and with, one’s self relates to privilege— racial, economic, gender-normative, etc. This year, the topic of privilege surfaced on the morning of the second day, as though, as a group, we had simply pressed “pause” for a year.
Of course, not everyone who was in the room this year was in the room last year. And not everyone who was in the room last year returned this year. And, truth be told, because time does not actually have a pause button, the conversation that began in the room continued personally for participants when they returned home and collectively within the unfolding of larger cultural streams. For me, due to a confluence of many factors, discussing the high ideals of yoga without acknowledging the gross inequities of our cultural paradigm, is to be tone deaf at best and, at worst, to be a willing participant in a sick, societal norm.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not think every Wednesday night asana class should begin with a diatribe about systemic oppression, the evils of misogyny, and the tragedy of how those forces are often internalized and operative in our personal biases and behaviors. I mean, Wednesday night class might be a great place for those kinds of considerations if a group was ready for the message. However, in the same way that preparation is important for advanced asana, a certain measure of preparedness can be helpful when considering the nuances of how personal work both is, and is not, political.
Personally, I think yogis are perfectly poised to unravel the knots of culturally-conditioned belief systems, because I believe unraveling conditioning is what yoga is actually about. The number of people who have unravelled the knots of their personal anxiety, depression, addictions, eating disorders, self-hatred, etc. through yoga indicates that re-wiring toxic patterns is possible through yoga. Of course, yoga practice works best on the knots to which we are applying the technology and not so great on the stuff we don’t, can’t, or won’t look at. And, keep in mind, I make plenty of distinctions between what it means to practice yoga and simply practicing asana or going to public classes. When I say “practice” I am referencing a larger endeavor that sometimes involves, but is never limited to, postural practice.
As I am writing, I am feeling that there is an impersonal nature to transformational group work. As personal as our yoga practice is, as deeply meaningful as our experiences can be, and as unique as each student’s perspective is, the conversation that began in the room last year, continued with different people in the room this year. Not to sound too far-out, but on one level,it is almost as if there is a conversation wanting to be had looking for a place to come into being, a place to land.
One key piece of clarity I offered the group this year was that I believe it is important to look squarely at certain problems and investigate our inner life in relationship to those issues before jumping to a solution. For instance, before figuring out how to make our studios and classes more inclusive, which is a wonderful aim, it is important to unravel the many ways our own biases and blind spots operate. Any good workshop facilitator can give a script for inclusive language and teach us how to say the right things and avoid saying the wrong things, but if those scripts are funneled through our own unexamined perspectives, there will be unconscious toxic energy behind our well-intentioned words. Additionally, we run the risk of trying to help as a way to avoid the pain of our complicity rather than doing the work to face what lives in the shadows of our culturally-conditioned psyches.
Of course, exploring problems without immediate solutions takes fortitude and stamina, which is where yoga practice comes in. In the same way, a yoga practice is built slowly over time, our capacity to grapple with the challenging issues of our times, for all its urgent necessity, is also going to built slowly over time. As we see the structures of our culture continually exposed as unjust and/or incapable of managing the moment in which inhabit as a human race, I believe we are also seeing— at least in many communities— yoga students and teachers grappling with how to cope, contribute, and evolve. We are not necessarily good at the work yet, and I expect to make plenty of mistakes along the way, and yet, the same dedication we bring to practice can be brought to bear on the messy business of standing together to insist upon “a more perfect Union… and to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
As is often the case, I left Tucson feeling inspired by the everyone who was part of the weekend and heartened by the experience we shared.
And for those of you white men reading, or folks who know white men who are reading, I have a friend, Chris Crass, who is offering an online seminar focusing on Anti racism and feminism for white, male faith leaders. If you practice and teach yoga, please consider yourself a faith leader and avail yourself of an opportunity to dive deep into your personal work and to learn practical tools for bringing love, faith and justice into your practice and teaching. Please help get the word out about this seminar. https://www.facebook.com/events/518295371989664/
I head to New Orleans for a weekend workshop today. I am looking forward to my last teaching weekend of 2018 and then some time home to snowboard, read, practice and prepare the course materials for my upcoming Asana Junkies webinar. More on that soon.
*I have this quote written in my personal notes from when Paul spoke at an Anusara yoga Certified Teacher’s Gathering in Denver. I think it was around 2006, but I do not have the date in my notes.
I met Stacey Millner-Collins almost ten years ago when I had the opportunity to assess her Anusara yoga certification video. I remember how dynamic and strong she was as a teacher, how skillful her students were, and how powerful her message beyond the asana was. When we were discussing her video, (She passed on the first try, by the way.) she told me about how great her community was. I first taught at City Yoga in 2011 and made several visits over the years. This weekend was the first time I have been back to teach in over five years. I believe this visit was better than ever, due largely in part to the ways that Stacy has been a trustworthy steward of the teachings and her students and teachers.
The City Yoga community is a shining example of what long-standing, Spirit-led leadership can look like when such leadership is met with sincere and dedicated students and sustained for more than a decade. For all the problems in the world of modern yoga, I visit many studios that exist as places of sanctuary, hope, and healing. Don’t get me wrong— every studio has issues, conflicts, and problems they face. My point is that for all the places where yoga seems to be broken, there are many places where yoga is working. City Yoga is one of those places.
Last weekend, I was teaching in Tucson when the news of the Philadelphia synagogue shooting was announced. This weekend, while I was teaching, we heard the news of a yoga studio shooting in Tallahassee. My Facebook feed was flooded with outrage, upset, and prayers of concern, none of which was surprising, and all of which I understand. I am fortunate to know many politically-engaged yoga teachers and practitioners in my immediate circles of association, which I am told is unusual. I suppose I keep good company.
And, of course, there was more than one person in my feed who posted about the yoga studio shooting who have remained silent on every other national calamity. That is a post for another day.
That being said, I also spend a lot of time in conversation with teachers and students about what is our responsibility as teachers in the classroom during this unique time in history. Do we stay silent about current events and let the yoga do what it does? Do we use our platform as teachers to speak out against injustice, oppression, and systemic issues that manifest in the almost-daily atrocities that show up in our news feeds? I have no practical advice for what anyone else should do.
For me, the teachings and practices of yoga have the capacity to help me only to the degree that I admit what I need help with.
Will yoga help with addiction? Sure, but yoga going to be of greater help to me once I admit I have a problem.
Will yoga help with the ways that I have been indoctrinated into unconscious bias due to living in a culture founded on systemic, institutionalized racism? Yes, but only to the degree that I acknowledge I need help with unraveling the knots of those conditioned patterns.
Will yoga help me feel more peaceful? Sure, but yoga is going to provide only a cosmetic, surface-level solution until I recognize the pockets of anger, violence, and vindictiveness that live inside me.
And so on.
From the personal to the cultural, from the psychological to the political, yoga’s utility in my life exists in direct relationship to my willingness to see, and give voice to, what is actually going on, not what I wish was happening.
To be clear, I do not advocate standing in front of a room a bashing all things Republican. Nor, do I think anything of value will be accomplished with a F*ck Trump tirade from the front of the room. I do not think we need to proclaim that, “chances-are-as-a-white-women-in-a-pair-of-expensive-yoga-tights-you-might-just-be-unconsciously-invested-in-toxic-patriarchy-and-so-before-your-first-down-dog-today-you-need-to-check-your-privilege.” And while that essential idea may be true, it’s not going to create a teachable moment or a change from within for anyone in the class.
(To be clear, I am grateful for the disturbing voices in the world of activism who have said just that so that I could examine myself in relationship to my upset, defensiveness, and recoil when my “I do good things in the world” identity meets up with the impact of how marginalized groups often feel in the face of me personally, or me as part of a larger demographic— a.k.a. white women. Again, commentary on this aspect of my post is part of a future post where I will write about my own white woman fragility in the first person. My point is that I have been upset and I have felt uncomfortable in ways that have helped me grow and know myself more fully. As a yoga practitioner, I am grateful for these learning opportunities. Truth be told, I rarely like being called out, I hate not getting it “right” and, more importantly, I have come to know there is more to me than the drive of perfectionism, more to my role than keeping people comfortable, and more to my life than maintaining and contributing to a sick, societal norm.)
When it comes down to to brass tacks, I am interested in yoga only so much as it is practical, accessible, and applicable to my life. While I am truly inspired by Possibility, I am anchored in reality. And so I speak to that in my classroom.
I closed our weekend with a story. Anusara yoga got its name from a passage in the Kularnava Tantra. The text opens with Shiva seated on the mountain top in deep meditation. Parvati has climbed the mountain to see her Beloved and she begins by extolling his virtues: “Oh great guru, You who are omniscient, ever-present, and steeped in the deepest Reality… and so on. (I am paraphrasing here as I am on a plane and do not have the actual text AND more than a few years have passed since I read the actual verse to which I am referring.) She goes on saying, “You who are the Highest of the High, the Deepest of the Deep, tell me…. I have been in the world and I have seen suffering and people are hurting. Please, oh great Lord, tell me what I can do to help….”
And Shiva answers her, outlining a path of the Heart, a path of the family of the Heart, that makes human life an opportunity to bring the Highest into form. In one passage, Shiva says that on the path of the Kula “one's enjoyment becomes yoga, one’s sin is made into art, and all life is liberation.” He basically says, “You— IN THE WORLD— strengthened by ME ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP— are the answer to the suffering you are hoping to heal.”
So, go to the mountain top, dive to the depths of the oceans within you, and find whatever access point you can to what is Highest and Deepest within you and then, because it is your duty, because to stay silent would betray the majesty of what you know to be true, because you want to Help, speak to the beauty of Spirit, testify to its power to strengthen you in the face of suffering, and unapologetically invite people into that same place inside themselves.
Each one of us is the answer. More importantly, each one of us together we can be the meeting point of Heaven and Earth that the text points to as the Possibility of the Path and the end to unnecessary suffering.
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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."