“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.
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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."