I spent the weekend in Minneapolis teaching at Yoga Garden. This weekend was my second visit there to teach and I always enjoy returning to teach at places I have been before. I know Laurel, the owner and director of Yoga Garden, from our days in Anusara yoga together so it is very fun to be continuing our association in this next iteration of practice and teaching. In addition to her in-depth studies in Anusara, Laurel is a fantastic gardener, artist and a certified Jivamukti Yoga instructor. One thing that is super fun about talking with someone of diverse creative interests and experience is that they tend to be very comfortable with experimentation, organic unfolding and not having all the answers pinned down and neatly wrapped up. That kind of orientation to life, practice and learning is very refreshing and invigorating.
I have been thinking about creativity a lot these days in relationship to yoga because it seems that we are always in a dance between traditional prescriptions and the creative process where we explore what it means to live and work within the boundaries and beyond them as well. I think of so many of the great yoga icons who pioneered modern trends in yoga and it seems obvious to me that even folks who now seem to hold down the conservative end of the discussion were controversial in the beginning of their work. Listen to any of the Senior Iyengar Yoga teachers describe what it was like to be around BKS Iyengar in the early days and you hear things like "mad scientist", "radical approach" and comments such as "you just never knew what he was going to do or say when you walked into class." However, my somewhat educated guess is that if someone were to try that teaching approach as one of their certified teachers the chances are high that one would have to answer to an orthodoxy.
I am not grinding an axe here at all nor am I trying to criticize one system over another. I saw the same dynamic in my many years as a practitioner, teacher and trainer in Anusara yoga. What I think began as a new iteration and a creative unfolding/synthesis became filled with a kind of orthodoxy such that now many (and certainly not all) former or current Anusara yoga students often have trouble integrating/trusting/understanding alignment cues if they do not come packaged in what has become the "traditional 5-step process." And I am not criticizing the method, the "5 steps", or the structures of that orthodoxy that helped me and so many others. I am actually very fine with, and very grateful for, all of that experience and training. I really am. Nor do I think it intended to find itself as an orthodoxy. I think it is the nature of systems and not anyone's fault and so on.
I am simply exploring a really common dynamic in yoga where the tension between tradition and innovation is a hard one to hold. We learn to recognize value because something is "tried and true" and defined by certain parameters that we accept as authoritative and so when something falls outside those lines it can be unsettling, upsetting and hard to know what to do with. I think the value of the "tried and true methods" and axioms that come along with tradition is not that they give us certainty and answers of what is the only truth but that these structures give us models of certain truths that can become models of a process of learning, discerning and exploring new truths as they arise. We learn the subject and how to learn the subject.
For instance, one of the most important things that the principles of Anusara yoga taught me was how to make sense of the experience I was having in my body and how to understand what I was feeling and it gave me a language through which to articulate what was happening which was very valuable. The system gave me such tremendous structure that I was able to clarify my experience and have a set of tools to evaluate information that came my way in the future. Sometimes the information that came my way was contrary to the system but because I could listen to my body, not just my intellect, I could make distinctions about whether I would incorporate the new and sometimes contrary information or not. I am also not afraid to try something out if it seems reasonable, even if it is not what I already know. I truly love learning new things, not just hearing what I already know. I am also happy to throw somethings out when evidence suggests they are not for me. My point is that I used those principles to help me listen to my body better and to listen to my experience more closely. (Not that I did it perfectly or without some serious mistakes and oversights either, mind you... It's a process.)
And, of course, the process can be a bit dicey since once we get map for the inner journey we step onto a razor's edge because there can be a tendency is to script our experience to fit the map instead of use the map as way to compare and understand our experience. And while that is perfectly normal and appropriate as beginners it become problematic for a whole host of reasons over time. But when we get really practical about this with asana, my prayer for us is that we all relax a little bit about right and wrong and work instead to keep the rigor of responsive exploration.
Every system I know that has lasted over time continually refines its thoughts about what works based on evidence it is receiving. Any time a teacher steps up to give a teaching, there is a side of the teaching not being discussed, which will eventually come calling. The opposite is always lingering near and since we can not say everything that is relevant each time we open our mouth to teach, we have to know eventually we are going to have to speak to the other side of the coin. For instance, make a point about effort and your students miss the message of surrender. Make a point about taking the thighs back and the students miss the message about opening the front groins. Talk about taking the shoulder blades down the back and your students might miss understanding how in many poses the shoulder blades actually move toward the head. Make an issue of keeping the abdomen soft and everyone loses out on core strength and integration. Always and only talk about tone in the belly and people never learn the relaxation that comes for letting that chronically tight area let go.
However, try to say everything and watch your students understand nothing.
As a teacher and a student I am very aware that this vast sea of knowledge is parceled out in small nuggets a little bit at a time. As a student and practitioner I must must build my matrix of understanding piece-by-piece in what feels sometimes to be an excruciatingly slow, trial-by-fire that asks me to traverse a terrain of seemingly contrary ideals and expectations. I am charged with the opportunity to sift through my own experience in the light of age-old wisdom, modern innovations and the many layers of intelligence and blind-spots that exist within me. And this is my work to do for myself as my teachers, no matter how good they are, can only point the way to how to work and to what I might find along the way. No teacher can do my work for me, or have my experience on my behalf or integrate my insights for me.
Yoga, for me, is a means of exploring, not a prescription for what I will find.
These days I am enjoying engaging an inquiry into the postures themselves and what helps them unfold and me unfold in them as opposed to a making them fit into a system or a prescription and that has opened up a place of fun in asana again. I am also finding that my inner life is more enjoyable when I become very curious about what is actually going on as opposed to what I think should be going on based on an outer ideal. And I find I like being with people a whole lot more when I can get into relationship with them as they are as opposed to them as I wish they were.
We had a good time with this kind of theme throughout the weekend and even though it might be a big heavy topic, we had a fun, light-hearted weekend full of laughter and a hard work. We had a huge storm that made the roof leak, the roads flood and the power go out all over Minneapolis so there were some fun environmental challenges as well.
I had a great time and will be looking forward to my next visit.
Well, I am checking in from Denver, Colorado after an amazing weekend in Buena Vista, Colorado. We had a fantastic workshop with almost 40 folks in each section, which is wonderful in any city but particularly noteworthy in a town of 2,000 people and only one stoplight!
So many things are noteworthy from the weekend but one thing that was truly meaningful to me was how many of my long-time friends and colleagues were in attendance. We had currently and formerly certified Anusara yoga teachers in the room all together working on all kinds of poses in what was a very mixed-level group spanning many decades in age. Really great company.
As time passes on the other side of what I sometimes refer to as the "Anusara debacle" (for lack of a better term) one thing that brings me great joy and hope is that many of the threads of friendship, community, love and respect still remain. And while certainly other ties have been loosened and even severed in some cases, one thing that is apparent to me is that much can be and has been salvaged and/or reborn from the ashes of that time of dissolution.
And in this rebirth phase I personally think we are being called to a new order or a new paradigm of studentship, leadership and community organization. I do not have some clear picture of it in my mind but given that the last few years have been pretty tough for gurus everywhere, I can't help but think there is something bigger going on than scandals only. I am thinking that the scandals are simply symptoms of what is or has become a somewhat sick and outdates system. (And before we get lost on the topic of all the different scandals in all the different communities over the last few years please know that I am not excusing, apologizing for or even negating the very real ways these powerful people have behaved inappropriately, unethically and so on I am simply saying- with my tongue a bit in my cheek at times since I like to make jokes about serious things as way to cope-- that we are witnessing a break down in that particular model. And while a lot could be said (and has been said and will continue to be said) about the flaws of the guru system and the ways it sets its own self up for these kinds of inevitable crashes, devastating disappointments, and painful developments I am looking at these situations more with a sweeping scope, rather with the analytical fine-tooth comb. )
I am considering that these breakdowns occurred precisely because they had to in order to call us to a higher level of functioning as students, teachers and community members. And yes, analysis on the why and the how of cult mentality, group mind, charismatic manipulations and the like must be examined both personally and collectively, with unrelenting scrutiny and with rigorous honesty so as to see clearly where to place responsibility and so that we can claim accountability when and where it is appropriate and then hopefully we can avoid similar outcomes in the future. I just can't shake the feeling that all that has happened over the last few years in so many spiritual communities from asana studies to Buddhism and other various religious centers, etc. has been right on time to help us birth a new way of working together.
And all that being said, I love being a student of a good teacher and of great teachings and I am creature of community. I believe that stepping into hierarchical relationships can be very useful at times and that outer structures and boundaries yield great inner growth and corresponding psychic freedoms. So I am not one of those people who are shouting "down with the guru" from the rooftops (or mountaintops, since I am writing from the mountains this morning) but I am pretty sure these days that something new is attempting to come through all of us. And I am pretty sure it has to do with discernment, clarity, honesty, scrutiny, maturity and shared teaching functions within collaborative learning communities.
And like any birth process, there is a lot of messy, painful, and scary moments. Birth and death are very similar doorways and there are times in the process of birth where both mother and child are at risk. And every death opens a door or births the being into a new realm of consciousness. At any rate, I have a feeling in my bones these days that I am in, and as a community that many of us are in, a process of birthing a new paradigm which means that 1) we don't exactly know what we are doing, 2) we will fix mistakes that came before, 3) we will make great new mistakes, despite our best efforts and loftiest intentions that someone else will need to fix in the future, 4) we will surf the waters between birth and death and 5) chances are we, like most people in labor, just are not going to look really good while we are doing it.
So I got onto this topic on Sunday morning when I was talking about something I heard that Bikram said about a posture, which then opened a door to the "rough year all charismatic leaders have been having" and after I said I wasn't going to go down that road, well, guess what? I went right down the road about this death/birth process. And looking at the big picture doesn't, in my view, discount negate, gloss over or otherwise excuse the nitty-gritty 3rd dimensional realities where people have been hurt, abused, neglected and/or devastated. Not one bit. The big picture context sits right alongside the personal story giving a meaning beyond betrayal, disappointment, anger, revenge and even euphoric recall of past golden ages. I believe it is our personal work to navigate those different domains intelligently, maturely and with clarity and to recognize that when we can't do it all ourselves, we can call in a good counselor to help us sort through what our spiritual heart wants and needs, what our emotional heart wants and needs and to bring understanding intellectually to the process of growth and change in which we find ourselves in our sadhana.
All right, here is a sweet little video from the weekend that Kelly made. Enjoy.
More on all this later- after all, it is a work of a lifetime.
Well, here I am, checking in from Buena Vista, Colorado on the first leg of what I am calling my Colorado Junket. I have always objected to describing my travels as “tours” as it always sounds a bit pompous or whomped up for my taste and for my actual experience of what it is like to pack a suitcase and go away from home to teach yoga. For other people, tour is the most natual word in the world to use so I do not mind that they use it I am simply saying for me, that word is not a fit. (And if I start naming tours we know we are in trouble but that is another story for another day!) I think of what I do more as “taking a trip” or in this case a “going on a junket.” And while junket refers to something more frivolous than what we might actually be up to on this trip, still it seems a fitting and appropriate reminder to have a good time while on the road.
And as far as having a good time goes, Colorado is a pretty easy place for me to do just that. The people are nice, friendly and generally down-to-earth. The land is breathtakingly beautiful with an abundance of opportunites for rest, relaxation and activity on land or on/in water. And as hot as it tends to be in Texas this time of year, getting to the mountains in June where spring has just begun is lovely to be sure.
Kelly and I got to Buena Vista yesterday and found to our amazing delight that our host arranged for us to stay the weekend in this incredible log cabin with an awesome view. The picture above is the view from my morning hot tub soak. Not only do we have this great place to stay but Jenna has assembled a big group of yogi’s from around Colorado for the workshop this weekend. I am really excited to be here and to meet all the folks who are coming for the workshop. Jenna and I have been planning this weekend for almost 2 years now and now the time is here. I remember meeting Jenna when she was first opening her studio and she has been coming to my workshops and intensives over the last three years as her studio has been growing and coming into the vibrant community that it is today.
Lately, I have been thinking about how fun it is to watch all of my friends and students grow and develop and hone and refine their offerings these days. Certainly doors open and close at different times for each of us but one thing about practicing and teaching over a long period of time is that I get to watch the changes not only in my life, but in my students lives as well. And over the last few months I have noticed that a lot of my long-term students are really doing some cool things and it is a great feeling to be part of those developments in some way.
Of course, when we look at the big picture we can see that as a community of practitioners we actually represent a pretty accurate cross-section of life expereince, both wonderful and difficult, both thrilling, terrifying, sublime and mundane. Health comes and goes, financial solvency cycles for many, marriages begin and end, children are born, lives end naturally and tragically, people relocate, fall in love, break up, get new jobs, get fired, embark on new ventures, and so on. Meanwhile, we do the postures, we watch our breath, we consider the Teaching: we practice.
Someone asked me the other day if I thought enlightenment was possible and I said, “Sure.” And then they asked me about something else. They didn’t ask me if I cared about enlightenment. They certainly didn’t ask me how I think it relates to sadhana and the choice to engage a set of practices in one’s life. They didn’t follow up and discuss with me whether or not I thought the average person’s practice of asana would effectively work as an “enlightenment technology” nor did we discusss whether or not said enlightenment would result in someone actually being a nicer person, according to any conventional standard. Nor did they ask me if I practiced for enlightenment.
All those questions might actually be the more interesting conversation because honestly, my asana practice and various other practices are more about training myself toward a body of habits that make my current life one of dignity and self-respect, not about preparing me for some final state or for some after-life kind of scenario where I am finally “off the wheel”,"removed from suffering," etc. And for the record, I suppose I do believe all that “off the wheel of samsara” stuff is true and so forth but it’s just not that inspiring to me in terms of my daily schedule and daily life choices. What is inspiring for me is looking at life and all it brings with it as an opportunity in which and through which to learn about what it means to be fully human and to engage the process of growing up with clarity and wonder. And practice definitely helps me with that endeavor.
At any rate, it seems to me that these ups and downs are simply life’s givens and any spiritual path that tells me that I can affirm my way out of suffering or goal-set my way beyond dispointment or pray my way out of paying my dues and so on is of little use to me these days. More on this later for sure.
And my junket will be great: I’ll teach all weekend in Buena Vista and then head to Denver on Tuesday. I will do my Asana Junkies Practice at Practice Yoga Studio on Wednesday and then head to Bounder on Thursday for the Hanuman Festival over the weekend.
Here is a link to a fun promo video Kelly made from the first Asana Junkies Sequence we ahve worked with this summer. Enjoy!
Well, it's been quite a week for me. I had a great time down in San Marcos over Memorial Day weekend. On Friday, Gioconda and I got together to make plans for our 300-hour Advanced Teacher Training that is coming up in the fall. We have an amazing group of applicants already and are hoping to have many more folks apply and register. We started outlining the program parameters even more clearly with specific Teaching Methods topics to review as well as an amazing course on the Business of Yoga. Our primary emphasis is on experiential practices that will help people both technically and through embodied experience. Neither of us want to chase down or dictate a bunch "rights and wrongs" about teaching but we do want to offer a meaningful year of study, practice and community-based learning. So that went well. We will be publishing a more in-depth syllabus soon. T
Also- this program is one weekend a month for a year and many people who live farther away have asked about an option that would make it more commuter-friendly. If you are someone interested in this program in a 5-day format over 18 months, send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will start a list of interested folks and Gia and I can make a plan if we have enough folks who are seriously interested in such a program.
On Saturday I worked on a photo shoot for the second sequence of my Asana Junkies Webinar. That went well. Like I have mentioned before I am working with a different sequencing strategy this time around. Last session I made 10 different sequences and this session I developed 3 sequences that build progressively on one another and instead of being a 2-hour back bend emphasis or a 2-hour forward bend emphasis I am using a general-template apporach that moves through warm- ups, headstand, handstand, pincha mayurasana to standing postures then arm balances, back bends, forward bends and then shoulder stand and closing. I am pleased with the first iterations of these sequences and will be making a few changes to them as time goes on and the feedback from actual practice rolls in.
One thing that is really clear to me is that working with a somewhat set sequence is a really different practice mentality than the peak-pose strategy. To work with a general template, one needs to know that the poses are your preparation whereas in a peak-pose strategy, we tend to prep every pose so that it feels great. That takes some getting used to . (And this context has to be measured with one's capacity as well because remember, ideally we never leave common sense out of yoga.) For the Level 1 student for instance, one might need a fair amount of preparation for headstand or handstand. For the Level 2 student, handstand is a great preparation for other things. Or think about pincha mayurasana- some folks need to open their shoulders to do it while other people get great shoulder opening from doing it. And also, if we do it as a shoulder opener it feels one way- maybe a little tight at first. If we do it after opening our shoulders it feels another way-- maybe freer and more expanded.
I personally have learned not to expect the same things from it. But that is a hard shift to make if your primary experience with harder poses is prepping them. (And with common sense in mind you have to know if you NEED the prep to be safe on the pose of if you just LIKE the prep because you prefer the way your pose feels even though the other way is perfectly safe.) So we've been talking about this a lot in junkies and orienting ourselves contextually to a full-specturm sequence intended for a general practice as opposed to a "how-to", peak pose yoga class/workshop context. Both strategies are awesome but they yield different outcomes, in my opinion. At least initially.
Anyway, I woke up Sunday with some pain in my hip which became excruciating by the end of the day and for several days after. It was so bad I subbed out my junkies practice on Wednesday, cancelled my trip to Minneapolis this weekend and had an MRI done. Turns out my gluteus minimus was in a total red-hot spasm/strain situation and that little muscle was causing a ton of problems and referred pain. It is so much better now, thanks to rest and some anti-inflammatory medication and some great bodywork. And like any injury situation I have already been processing lots of lessons.
When I saw the Sports Medicine doctor about my hip initially it was sobering because the symptoms I was experiencing could have been from strain, sprain, fracture, necrotic bone tissue, arthritis, torn labrum, cancer, etc. and there was really no way to know without getting an x-ray and MRI. But it got me to thinking that as a yoga teacher so many people come to my classes and workshops with pain that is undiagnosed and how, while I try to help, the truth of the matter is, pain is caused by a variety of things and good treatment outcomes depend a lot on knowing what is actually wrong AND we should, in my opinion, stay on the humble side of this dynamic as yoga teachers.
Years ago I worked in a TT program at a local studio where we made the trainees memorize this line: "I am a yoga teacher and I do not diagnose and I do not treat" to help the trainees understand their scope of practice. Scope of practice is a topic of a mini-series of blogs, actually as we have not governing body, as yoga teachers, that determines for us what our scope of practice actually is. Are we exercise teachers, counselors, life coaches, physical therapists, ministers, etc.? Are we some of each and then how much of one and how much of the other? So, I reflected a lot on these issues as I was lying in the MRI tube taking advantage of some sophisticated diagnostic equipment and preparing myself mentally for the range of possible outcomes and treatments which could start at rest and ice and go all the way to a hip replacement, depending on what they found.
And while that is a little dramatic-sounding perhaps it does serve as a great reminder that if we, as practitioners, have lingering pain or if our students have unexplained/undiagnosed/persistent pain we or they should get some help determining why they are hurting. For instance, if the bone had grown necrotic which was a main concern of my doctor then no amount of "thighs back" was going to help that. If I had torn something, stretching was not smart. If I had cancer, well, obviously I was going to need something other than PT. You get my point.
I could go on, but this is already a very long post. Suffice it to say I have a "pain in the butt" and I am getting better every day. I am enjoying the time on the couch to rest, watch some TV and get some work done on my TT Manual that I am going to finally make into a sellable product since so many people have been asking for it (and rumor even has it is has already been used in someone else's TT program so I might as well publish it and get some credit for its genius!)
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