A Little Back Story
A few years ago I taught a Sequencing Strategies webinar on Peak Posture Sequencing. To help students use Light on Yoga as a resource in the process of sequencing for practice and teaching, I developed a worksheet to guide the participant's study and to serve as a concrete learning tool for developing the pose knowlege required to know, not only the posture itself, but the relationships between poses and their key actions and common misalignments.
Later, I incorporated these pose worksheets into the curriculum I develped for the School of Yoga project that Darren Rhodes and I began in October 2011 and then dissolved later in 2012. I still use these handouts in my teacher training programs and continue to find them an excellent teaching tool. In a basic course a student would work with these pose knowledge handouts for each pose on a General Sequence.
Click here for a copy of the Original Pose Knowledge Handout.
Click here for a copy of the General Sequence we worked with in the orginal School of Yoga training.
Keep in mind-- this is not a sequence like Bikram or Ashtanga or anything like that. It is not designed as a “complete” anything or an "everything for every body" kind of sequence. Instead, this sequnce was or is used as a backbone of basic postures that, if understood well, provides a fundamental foundation upon which to be creative. Additionally, the process of learning these poses in this way can be applied to the process of learning every other posture and so the content is important as is the method of learning. A related topic along these lines (and one dear to my heart ) is the idea that we need to learn any given subject AND we need to learn how to learn the subject. As teachers, we are teaching subject but also guiding our students in a process of learning how to learn the subject at hand.. Also, we are teaching the students how they are going to learn the subject from us. But all that is a different story for a different day.
I recently ran across the Pose Knowledge/Research handout in another teacher’s webinar course materials with chart or two added to it as well as their logo and copyright. Anyhoo- without a long IP conversation about all that, I thought it might be a fun thing to make the materials a bit more open source and offer up a little training here on the blog since I am tired of thinking about and commenting on modern yoga culture. And since we are working on sequencing this weekend in our Alchemy of Flow and Form Teacher Training in San Marcos, TX this weekend, this blog entry is also a bit of a recap of some of our work from this weekend.
A Little SequencingLight on Yoga Information
When I use Light on Yoga for sequencing ideas I first and foremost remember that any book is a snapshot in time and definitive only in the sense that it captures the author’s ideas at the time the book was written. Being a writer myself, I know that the books (and blog entries even more so) I wrote are still true in one way and certainly accurate to the time of the writing, but since I have changed, grown and evolved in my understanding and application of the ideas I presented, the books I wrote then are not the books I would write now. It doesn’t mean I feel like I should “take them back” or anything of the sort, but I do recognize that time marches onward and written material doesn’t.
So I keep that in mind and I don’t get crystalized around it all. I figure Mr. Iyengar’s ideas have changed, his insights have developed further and he has solved problems that live in the book and all that. And with all that in mind, I believe that the book is a fantastic resource.
I also know that when I am using a book like Light and Yoga, I am using it to stimluate my understanding and to help me make connections within my own knowledge base and my conclusions are simply my own. I might see things that were not intended, I might relate to the information differently than the author meant and for me, none of that is a problem. For instance, I am going to explore placement of postures within the book and look for relationships in the placement and hopefully see some threads of connections but that does not mean that those are the reasons they are placed there from the author’s viewpoint. I simply can’t know that.
HOWEVER, being right or wrong in the process of looking for relationships isn’t the point of an exercise like this one. The loooking, the threading of the insight, if you will, is the learning process as much--if not more-- than the arriving at a single right answer.
More could be said by way of disclaimers but with those ideas in mind.
Also... this is one way of working with Light on Yoga and there are many more ways to work with it.
If we take the pose worksheet and apply it to a pose like tadasana we learn all kinds of things right there from the git-go.
Name of Pose: tadasana
English Translation: mountain pose
Mythological Origins: Well, not really mythological but he mentions that it is also samsthithi which means upright, straight, unmoved. Tadasana implies a pose where one tands firm and erect as a mountain. (So on a different note than sequencing, this part is an incredibly useful tool for theme development. If we see the qualities of heart and spirit that live implicitly in the postures, then we can create themes that are more likely to meet up and be embodied in the postures themselves rather than just creating a narrative that sits on top of a sequence or runs alongside the postural practice as an additional aspect, rather a theme that makes an implicit relationship explicit. Again, different training topic for a different day.)
Benefits: I won’t recap them here but if you read the effects of tadasana in LOY you get an incredible discussion about standing and its efects on the body-mind (p. 52) which end up with him saying that when tadasana is matered “one feels light in body and the mind aquires agility.”
Also, in the benefits of the more advanced postures I alwasy insert the words “if all goes well and you don’t actually hurt yourself doing this, then this might be a positive outcome but it is not proved by medicine or modern science....” just so we are clear, I look at this as a resource for practice and teahcing, not as a religion. Seriously. Or else it all gets weird. And its weird enough.
Contraindicaitons: most folks should be good to go with this one.
Stages: 1 (but some of the poses have many stages. For instance go look at page70 and see Virabhadrasana 1 has 3 stages: 1. arms overheard, 2. lining the posture up with the hips moving more square and 3. the bend of the front knee to 90 degrees. As a teacher, this gives me some clues about the sequence within the posture. Each stage could be a discreet pose to work on in a Level 1 class and a guide for progressively teaching the pose. Also note- he doesn’t say square the hips. On the top of page 71 he says the face, chest, and front knee should face the same way. Another topic for another day.)
But in terms of stages you can also compare the entry into Vira 3 on page 73 and into ardha chandrasana p.75. In each case there is a bent leg intermedate stage that is similar and might be worth some time and attention in terms of teaching this pose to beginners for the first time.
So tadasana has 1 stage, but many poses have many more stages and the stages are good to contemplate. I figure, if it is in the book, there is probabaly a reason so let me ponder what some of the reasons might be and see if I can grow some insight.
General shape- Note: I like to know this not because I am going to do or teach the shape as given but at least I like to educate myself on the forms and their variances so if I am playing jazz in class or practice I at least did a little scales study. I don’t crystalize around right and wrong forms or anything or make a thing of it- I just study it a bit.
Anyway, standing straight, legs together and straight, arms by sides and straight, looking straight ahead, chest lftted. simple. like that. But go look at Vira 1 again on p. 71 and see hands in upward prayer and head back. We might choose arms wide with jazz hands, etc. but well, in my opinion p. 71 form is the seed of the arms wide/jazz hands form and isn’t that just cool to know? (That’s how I think of it anyway.)
posture that precedes it: nothing. first one.
posture that follows it: vriksasana. tree pose
What can you make of its positioning?: well, first pose. must be foundaitonal. must be important. Oh, look EVERY standing pose in LOY starts the same way: stand in tadasana. so wow. that’s something.
also looking at vrksasana I can se the standing leg is a tadasana leg. Oh, so maybe good to balancing well on two feet before we stand on one.
And so on.
This work gets really interesting as the book goes on- look at ustrasana on p.88 in relationship to utkatasana on p. 89. if you sit that deep in utkatasana, you are going to need an "ustrasana lift" in your chest.
Also look at the low back in the concave stages of the forward bends on p.90, 91, 92. perhaps all that starts in ustrasana, then back chain of the body gets strengthened in utkatasana and is carried over into the forward bends, where the same now-establish lumbar curve and now-made-strong-back-muscles are stretched.
So again, this section is about challenging ourselves to see relationships, not in being right or wrong. Looking for the ways the poses relate grows our understanding.
I could go on through the worksheet and through the book like this but you probably get the gist by now. Once you start to identify problems with the poses, common misalignments and the key actions that overcome the misalignments and when you have that depth of knowledge for a bunch of different poses you can group them in your sequencing quite nicely. You have now started to build a matrix of understanding. Some poses will need to be the poses that prepare the body parts and muscle groups, some can be grouped according to common problems and fixes and so on. More on that another day.
So in the TT I developed we did the pose worksheets for all the poses in the general sequence and then used them as springboards for sequencing curriculum. You can work up to those poses and create sequences where the poses on the general sequence are peak poses. And you can create sequences where the poses on the general sequence teach the harder stuff. More on that work another day.
I hope this was useful and got you thinking.
Have a good one.
I started writing this entry on the way home from Grand Rapids, Michigan where I taught a weekend workshop at Peace Lab Yoga. I am finishing the post at my desk in Austin after a re-entry that has had me chained to the computer and dealing with some administrative tasks that are kind of exhausting for various reasons. Anyway--
This was my second visit to Peace Lab Yoga to teach and it was really great. Peace Lab Yoga always holds a special place in my heart because days after I resigned my license to teach Anusara yoga, I got a note from Melanie McGowen who knew me through Facebook asking me to come to Grand Rapids, Michigan. She told me that she had been teaching at the YMCA for many years and her students had been encouraging her to open up her own studio but she doubted herself and wasn’t ready to take the risk. She told me that watching me take a huge risk in my life gave her the courage she needed to do the same in her own. When she invited me to come and teach she hadn’t left the YMCA and she hadn’t opened the studio yet but she told me that if I said I would come, she would have a place for me to teach by the time I got there.
So this is a great story of how yogis do business sometimes. If you think about it, it makes no logical sense for her to invite me to teach with no studio in which to host the workshop nor does it make any logical sense that I would accept such an invitation. And yet, the whole thing made a different kind of sense to both of us at the time and it really seemed like the right thing to do. So I accepted her invitation. Shortly thereafter, Melanie quit the YMCA and she and her husband, Jim, founded Peace Lab Yoga. By the time I came last year, the studio was up and running and there was a wonderful turn out for the workshop. This year was even better- the studio is more established, Melanie has a great crew of teachers and she is even running a teacher training program this year.
I suppose this is also a story about what happens as we live our lives in a public way due to social media, etc. and the surprising ways our actions can be lessons and omens to others. Sometimes we become lessons of what not to do as we make our mistakes in public and our poor choices become instructive. Other times our choices serve as inspiration, messages to others in times of darkness and examples of new possibilities and reminders to live beyond our fear-based scripts and patterns. There we are, going about living our lives and writing status updates and BAM! someone sees it as a sign. This phenomenon is both sobering and inspiring to me and more than a little humbling.
Melanie has been an enthusiastic participant in my online programs and so it was fun to for me to teach a group of people who have been working with the Asana Junkies sequences and tips for over a year. There was so much groundwork already done that my teaching work was very easeful since the foundation was so strong in so many of the students there. I had a really great time teaching and spending time with the students at Peace Lab as well as the many who travelled in for the workshop from surrounding areas. As always, the best part about a return visit somewhere is seeing the same people again while watching the circle expand a bit as well.
I think the impression of the weekend I am left most with is that there is a joy in teaching yoga when I anchor myself in the actual simplicity of teaching the poses and helping people learn how to do them that gets lost for me when I ponder the larger streams of the yoga industry too much. Melanie and I talked a lot about the trends in the business and in our observations of what is going on in her local community as well as the larger spheres of which we are a part. Like I have spoken about before on this blog, some days I feel like the legacy of yoga is in good hands and we are, as modern practitioners and teachers, wonderful stewards of a wonderful tradition. Other times I can’t help but wonder how anyone coming new to yoga is able to learn the practice in any real way in the midst of so much noise about yoga.
In my travels, I talk to many yoga teachers feeling lost in the noise, frustrated by the industry, the politics, the endless hustling they have to do to make any money teaching and the fear that they just can’t quite keep up with it all. Many people speak to me about feeling somewhat invisible in the midst of what has become a celebrity yoga cuture, whether that culture be at the local, regional, national or international level. Many teachers tell me that they either do not want, or are not being able, to play the game by the current standards that seem to govern sucess for yoga teachers these days and are worried about their place in it all.
So, it seems, it feels like a bit of a jungle out there for many teachers. And perhaps my perspective on some of the trend is informed by the numbers of teachers I talk to in any given month, whether it be in person or in my online seminars and forums. There also seems to be a bit of a shame for some teachers regarding their job difficulties because almost every one of the people I talk to also love their work, believe in the yoga they teach, sincerely want to help people and are grateful for the opportunity to share the practice with others. Time and again I hear stories of teachers on the brink of throwing in the towel only to get an email from a student telling them how much their teaching has impacted them or the burnt-out teacher sees a student get a pose for the first time and gets re-inspired about how success on the mat can shift someone so deeply and so they soldier on. I know for me pondering the ways that community connection transforms peoples perceptions of themselves never gets old and keeps my hat the ring many a day.
I suppose, like so many things, the answer lives in our ability to hold space for many realities to be true simoultaneously and then knowing which reality to pay the most attention to at any given point throughout the journey. For instance, it doesn’t need to be teaching is hard and the business aspect sucks OR I love my students and working with them brings me joy. It can be both. It can be great and hard. It can be wonderful with parts that really suck. And sometimes we have to really acknowledge the difficult parts- and not just focus on the positive parts--so we can trouble shoot the difficult aspects to see if we can improve them or our relationships with them in some way.
What I liked so much about the weekend was that the workshop was fairly straightforward. We didn’t talk much about teaching, we didn’t go to deep in to psychology or philosophy, we just worked on asana with some good pep talks sprinkled throughout. As much as I like teacher training as much as I am a bit of a modern-day philosopher, I have to say that much of the fatigue that hits me in my job is more about the part peripheral to the teaching, not in the actual work of helping people with poses.
And its a bit odd because I actually think the poses are kind of incidental. Don’t get me wrong, everyone knows I love to practice poses and I like to work on them to improve them. I always have. I am into them. I am hooked. And yet it’s weird becuase I also don’t think they are ultimately that important. I think having a way like asana to move stuck energy through our bodies is amazing. I think the asanas are great physical exercise as they help us grow strong and flexible at the same time. The asanas are wonderful for the tool they are for deepening the conscious connection of the body and the mind and the emotions. And I could go on about all the things I love about the asana practice. But I have to say, in a very real way the purpose the asana serve is more important to me than the poses in and of themselves. I mean really, we can live good happy lives and never touch a foot behind our head, drop back into a back bend or sit in lotus.
Anyway, like I said, the asana are amazing tools for so many things, not the least of which is self-observation. It seems to me that we can learn so very much about ourselves by simply watching ourselves struggle to engage, maintain and become established in practice. We get to watch our patience, our self-honesty, our ambition, our self-criticism, our laziness, our compassion, our work ethic, our excuses , our courage, our tenacity, our perseverance and so on. Of course we get to see our lack of those things as well- good and bad, positive and negative. The asanas are such a lovely projection screen upon which to observe our inner machinations and get to know ourselves better. They are like a self-inventory in action. I actually love that about them very much and the inner life of practice is what has kept me interested all these years.
And yet, as a teacher, I always love returning to the majestic simplicity of how to do the poses and how to work toward the poses as if they actually matter. And that is how the weekend ran. I talked a little about the inner aspects of progress through asana but mostly, we worked on poses, laughed a lot and everyone worked very hard. For the last few years I have played with some different sequencing approaches and I feel like I am settling back into a new wave of peak posture sequencing informed by some of my forays into more full-spectrum/potpourri approaches but yet back to my home-base style of intelligently, progressively unfolding toward a pinnacle pose with the repetition of key actions throughout.
So all that to say, I am happy about the weekend both in terms of what I offered and how it was received.
More soon. Time to practice asana before dinner.
Last year, on somewhat of a whim, I offered a webinar called Asana Junkies. In a year or so of traveling the country during the time I refer to as The Anusara Yoga Aftermath I talked to many disillusioned yogis who felt disconnected from themselves, from their practice, from the teaching and from a larger community of practitioners. It seemed to me that all of the talking and writing people had been done to sort out the dynamics of the situation had certainly helped people to varying degrees and yet, there was still this feeling of disconnect. I thought that, while the initial wave of processing was healthy, beneficial and necessary, the next stages of healing for people and communities would come from a return to shared practice.
To me, a community of practitioners is just that- a community that practices together. We may or may not have shared religious ideals, philosophical ideology, political views, dietary preferences, and certainly we will not always have compatible personality profiles. Up to a point, I believe a group of practitioners need to have a common bond in order to make the group worthwhile but after a point, I believe very little of that is necessary. A community of practitioners is formed through shared practice over time. That is the basis of the bond, as I see it, and when shared practice becomes the focal point, so many other difficulties fall into their proper perspective.
I also wanted to create a forum for folks to have support, education, and inspiration to deepen their asana practices without a huge financial investment and without leaving home. As important as getting on planes and going away for education, retreat and study is, I believe over time it can disrupt family life, detach us from local community and unconsciously or consciously re-inforce a belief that yoga happens somewhere other than where we actually are. I could go on about that but, well, that is another post.
Anyway, like I said, the webinar was a bit of a whim. I also did not want to talk philosophy or promise heart themes or anything like that back then. I wanted it to be clear we'd be diving into asana as the emphasis of our work and so I called the program "Asana Junkies." I didn't think the name would be so offensive and problematic to so many. I certainly didn't mean it to be disrespectful to people whose lives have been painfully and horribly affected by the horrors of addiction. Having spent a lot of time in addictions recovery myself as a recovering bulimic and also as a drug and alcohol counselor, I am anything but cavalier about how serous addiction is. I simply meant to say, "Hey- if you love asana, come on over here because we are going to go down the road of asana together for a while." For years, I have called myself (and my more zealous friends and students) an asana junkies, a yogaholic, a yoga junkie, a yoga animal, etc. The name was intended as a bit of a joke, but I have gotten more than a little feedback that the joke didn't land so well for many!
Nor do I see Asana Junkies as my "new brand," as many people have spoken about- both directly to me and to others about me. If I had to put Asana Junkies into the language of business and marketing, I would see it as a product that I offer, not as Christina Sell's Brand. And sure, products have a brand and the company that makes a product has a brand and all that is fine. But it is not like my brand used to be Anusara Yoga Teacher and now it is Asana Junkies Leader of anything like that. I also have an online course called Alchemy of Flow and Form I teach with my friend Gioconda Parker and a an onsite 300-hour TT by the same name and Live the Light of Yoga Intensives and workshops I teach and so on. As I see it, Asana Junkies is a course that I teach and refers to a model of shared, supported practice. It is not a set sequence, a defined style or anything of the sort.
And the name, with its edge and possible offensive nature was not by intention but was really more of a whim. A year later I think about changing it but well, other than "it offends some people" I can't think of a good enough reason.
And the irony is that if someone is easily offended then it is not going to work so well for us to work together. Not over the long haul anyway. I do A LOT of work to manage my personality as a teacher and to be as nice and as compassionate and soft as I can be but I am still me- sarcastic, edgy, offensive at times, and with a sense of humor that either works for someone or not.. I am kind and I am insightful and I am expansive by nature and yet, I am not always "nice" and my opinions are not always easy to take. So, in terms of branding, the reality is I am who I am and so even not-branding is a brand and perhaps this was just the right name after all, as the name seems like a bit of a gargoyle at the gate. (Gargoyles standing at the gate of transformation is definitely another post for another day.)
So, like I said, here we are a year later and our courses are going well and I have to say that Asana Junkies is far from a course about hard-core yoga postures or even about hard-core people doing yoga. Asana Junkies is part-inspiration, part-education, part-community collaboration and part-personal practice and part-group practice. I have to say that it has been one of the most rewarding teaching experiences I have had in a long time. I have long-marvelled at the fact that, as yogis, we have one of the most sophisticated physical practices but we learn it in 90-minute increments, with no required reading, no attendance requirements, no tests, no homework, no prerequisites, no clear curriculum, no objective skills to measure and with very little intellectual information about the what, the why and the how of the practice. Really, we are so experiential in our methods-- we put people in a room 1-7 times a week for 30-120 minutes, guide them through postures with cues and a few demonstrations and then we expect them to listen, to learn, to apply the things we say and not hurt themselves, to feel better emotionally and to connect to their spiritual selves and so on. Seems a tall order for what is effectively a gym class in terms of how the subject matter is presented. Think about it, even 6-year old karate students get tested on their skills and no college professor would teach an upper level course to someone who had not completed a 101 course to learn the basic vocabulary needed to learn how to learn the subject.
Anyway, I could go down the road of whether or not our educational objectives are actually reasonable considering our educational format but that is another post for another day. Other than to say that what I love love love about Asana Junkies is that the educational format extends beyond the lab portion of class. We have lecture and discussion as well. With weekly calls and online forums and an website chock full of learning resources to support the process, we have a chance to go through some of the theory of practice, some of the relevant anatomy and to trouble-shoot the postures both conceptually and then experientially so that understanding can meet implementation. And I give more than a few pep talks about "do what you can" and also about how the asana fits into larger teachings so we get a good dose of inspiration for the heart and spirit also.
Also, I love that students get information online and then are charged with the work of finding the application on their mats without a teacher always there to help them. I think this informed and supportive independence is very healthy in a day and age where we are learning how to be our own intelligent teacher and student and to utilize help without being dependent or becoming childish in relationship to the teacher. Of course, that too, is another post for another day.
There are a few other things I like a lot about the course like being in communication with yogis from different back grounds all over the world, that there is a honor-based sliding scale so that people can pay according to their current budgets and that there are yogis of different ages, abilities and interests all joining together in practice to what they can as they can. I could go on but, well, that is enough of the back story other than to say the course has become much more than I thought it would be and has re-inspired my teaching work and stretched me way beyond what I thought it would.
Oh, and I LOVE that I have a local practice group here to work with. I think every yoga teacher needs a great place to learn and practice where they are well-received as a student , a great place to offer their work where they are well-received as a teacher and a great set of friends who could care less about who they are as a student and teacher and who love them as the people they are. (Again, that is a different pose but Asana Junkies at Bfree Yoga in Austin has given my teacher's heart a home which has meant the world to me.) I honestly think some of my best teaching is happening in this course and it is way beyond what any course description of catchy name could capture, which is why I am writing this article now.
I did a course during our winter session on "5 Weeks to Better Back Bends." We worked a lot with a general sequence and some routines for upper back opening, quad stretching, shoulder stretching and strength building. Here are a few glimpses into our work together: (It is probably obvious but I actually think this course is some of the most relevant asana-based teacher training out there. All of the insight and information I give to folks as practitioners is immediately applicable to their teaching work with students and is a training in pose knowledge, observation, adjustments, prop work, etc. So practical. But I digress.)
A Few Tips for Urdhva Dhanurasana
A Few "Before and After" Shots
Spring Session Starts Soon (Shameless Promotion Coming Up)
So we had so much fun and created such a good foundation for the back bending work in 5 weeks that we are going to go further down the road with our Spring Session. I am super-excited about the course and have been hard at work making all the course materials- new photos, new classes, etc. It is going to be awesome. Each course gets better in terms of organization, course materials and my understanding of how best to support the learning process.
Here is the link to find out more about it- http://www.springsessionasanajunkies.com.
What you get if you chose to participate:
-Level 1/2 Online Class,
-Level 2/3 Online Class,
-Level 1/2 Audio Recording,
-Level 2/3 Audio Recording,
-Upper back opening routine
Please note: The Winter Course is required but if you didn't join us for winter and want to join the spring, you can sign up for the winter course and the spring course work on both together! You will need access to the course materials from Winter to best benefit which is why I made it a required course.
Kelly and I have been home a few days from our trip and have been recovering, little by little, from some pretty serious jet lag. I felt next-to-no jet lag when we landed in Sydney but the return trip has been another story. Brutal.
After we left Sydney we made our way to Jakarta to teach an intensive called the Power of Practice. My host, Mona, told me that the traffic in Jakarta is so bad that many people have to spend several hours in a car just to get to and from a yoga studio, which makes it very difficult to go to regular public classes to learn and practice yoga. She asked me if I would teach a course on developing a home practice so that these people could gain some tools for practicing at home. I agreed and we had a three-day intensive that was a blend of theory, class and personal practice.
After Jakarta, we went to Singapore. This was my third visit to Singapore so it felt like a homecoming to me. I was happy to see many of the students back to go deeper in their studies. My journeys to Singapore began back in July 2012 when Noah and I began a teacher training program there. Since that time his work and my work took many different turns but a core group of students weathered the changes in the program and returned six times over the almost 2 years to complete 300-hours of classroom study.
I am always amazed that any of us can finish these programs! 300-hour training programs are an immense commitment of time, energy, attention and money and so many thing arise throughout the duration of a program that threaten to derail a participant's initial goals. Sometimes, the program isn't what they expected and they can't reconcile the differences. Sometimes people move, get pregnant, get divorced, change jobs, have a family member get ill, etc. There are many ways the content changes person to person, but when we actually make it to the end of a program with graduates, I am always impressed, grateful and full of bittersweet feelings since completion is a happy thing but endings are often a bit nostalgic.
This group was no different. I am always stuck by the way a group who does a training together forms so many deep bonds. Almost every graduate shared two things with the group about what they feel like the got from the training: 1.) Their personal practice improved and 2.) They made deep connections with the group and were amazed by the supportive friendships they formed.
These kinds of testimonies are very touching and inspiring to me and renew my faith in the work we are all doing together.
A while back I wrote a blgc called Real Yoga spawned some lively discussion and even another blog entry about branding called A Girls' Gotta Eat. And as meaningful as the conversation of personal brand was (and in fact, it has continued to give me much food for thought and reflection) I was actually not writing the first entry about personal branding as much as I was writing about branding yoga in general and making a point about all the commentary out there about Real Yoga and who, if anybody, is teaching it and how and so on. Of course, the hot topic that stood out was about personal banding and why we should and shouldn't do it and so on, which is NOT the point of this article, although I do have more to say about it since those articles.
I think a lot about what is Real Yoga these days and the more I consider it the less I feel like I even know what it is any more. From what I can tell, yoga has always been re-inventing itself and walking a dynamic line between its timeless teachings and the evolution of the culture in which the yoga is practiced. In one way, the teachings are aiming us beyond time, space, culture, gender, etc. There is also the way that yoga is adapted to different times, places, circumstances and temperaments. Teaching yoga in different countries and cultures always makes me consider these dynamics because while yoga's roots are in India, its future legacy lives in the hands of practitioners around the world.
Some days the legacy seems assured to me and I feel like future generations will have access to the teachings of silence, stillness, introspection, skillful action and will be able to use yoga techniques to find out more about their inner landscape. Other days, I am not so sure as I see the practice grow increasingly social, modernized, extroverted and motivated by more and more conventional values. (And so we are clear and so I do not sound like I am on my Yoga High Horse here, I see this dynamic inside myself, not just in the outer culture. I am an Instagram Yoga Practitioner, a shameless participant in social media-izing my practice and the line between living my dharma and cannabalizing my inner life for work is sometimes blurry. I am sometimes too-entertaining as a teacher and I am as likely as anyone to get pulled into the stream of group-think when it comes to my own life.)
So, I think on these things a lot. A friend of mine told me the other day that the Real Yoga discussion isn't even interesting to the generations of yogis who are starting to come to yoga now. Their yoga is and always has been this yoga that people who came into yoga in its early iterations are criticizing. The newer generation's yoga has always had social media, creative musical accompaniment, hot rooms, big studios, yoga super stars, fancy pants and career opportunities. And-- key point-- it has always felt Real to them. My friend told me that, in her observation, the concern over Real Yoga- what it is and who is doing it, etc.- is a decidedly 40-year old person/practitioner's concern. Not sure if she is right or not but that was a new angle for me to consider for sure.
So, I could go in a lot of directions with this. Such as if it feels Real, is it? If we are told something that is false is Real and we believe it are we, like Patanjali warned us, living in ignorance by definition? Isn't possible, that over time, we could even lose the ability to recognize and discern that place in us where yoga points us from the gratification of our likes, wants and more personality-driven ideals? If we commodicize a spiritual practice, aren't we going to be at the mercy of the market? And so on. And on. And on. And if you know me and sit down with me for a while, you know this is a topic about which I think a lot.
And like I said earlier, the more I think about it, the fewer rigid lines I am able or willing to draw because I watch the ways the practice is shifting the people I teach and with whom I practice. I watch this "Potentially Not Real Yoga" give people a way to come together with themselves and with each other in and through the body, the breath and movement. I watch this "Potentially Not Real Yoga" forge bonds of friendship, end crises of isolation, give meaning to challenge and provide hope in times of darkness. I watch this "Not Real Yoga" inspire people to step out of old patterns, to listen to themselves and to take risks to know and express themselves on increasingly deeper levels.
And I see this "Potentially Not Real Yoga" show us our shadows. I watch people get angry, find pockets of grief and sadness they never knew existed, and learn to have a fuller and not always nicer, experience of themselves. I also watch us reist those lessons until we outgrow our ability to live in the old ways. I have seen as much jealousy and competition in yoga as in any other industry or endeavor. I watch us all make mistakes and hurt ourselves and each other and it seems to me that we do this under a more scrutinizing lens as practitioners than we ever would if we lived only by conventional values and standards. I watch us struggle with ourselves to bear up under the friction that sometimes exists between our heart's calling and our behavioral choices and emotional capacities. I watch us learn to say "I am sorry". I watch us learn to say, "I can not forgive yet." I watch us learn to stay in the game.
So, I don't know if it is Real Yoga anymore. I really don't. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. I do know I care less these days about what we call it. Because in the midsts of the posing for Instagram, chiming in on Facebook, writing our blogs, working on our branding and #hashtaggingouryogaeverydamday, something seems to be happening in many people that is beneficial. Obviously, all kinds of train wrecks and casualties exist as well and while I visit those places and read the reports, that reality is not one in which I can live for too long. The complaints and observations- valid and otherwise- all fade when I return to me and my practice. My body. My breath. My posture. My movement. My heart. My path. My practice. In the sanctity of practice, so many difficulties seem to find their own resting place without conflict. They do not go away, mind you, they just rest in themselves and not in my emotions and mind so much. And, as a teacher, when I live in the smiles and stories of my students and the evidence of how they are unfolding in their lives, the notion of is this Real Yoga or not seems a bit pedantic.
All right. Onward with the day.
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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."