In preparation to write a blog entry today, I closed out several screens of commentary about Russia, health-care, Sean Spicer, Robert Mueller and so on. As I opened up a new document on my computer, I felt a bit at odds with myself and the world, trying to drum up something useful to write about yoga practice, teaching and spiritual growth. Truth be told, writing blog entries has been difficult for me since the presidential election, since watching our country careen toward the end of democracy makes the debate about “music or not in class” or “groupons vs. class pass” or “should the hips be square in Vira 1” and “do my next webinar” seem somewhat shallow and self-serving.
Reading or contributing to commentaries about the problems with modern yoga has also felt strange to me since November. Something woke up inside me the morning after the election that made me feel that squabbling about yoga in any way was a luxury I no longer have. I am not saying that there is no place for good, honest critique. In fact, I think we need critical thinking, discernment and clarity more than ever right now. But, if I am to have any hope that our political leaders might journey across the political aisle for the betterment of our society, I might as well start working toward peace within the yoga communities and let a lot of shit go.
Personally, I know I need the sanity and sanctuary that my practice provides me without the distraction of doubt, fault-finding and petty jealousies. I am talking here about the level of intrigue, shit-talking and suspicion that exists within yoga communities, not the valid concern about the exploitation of power dynamics, social inequities and traumatization that happens in yoga communities claiming to help people heal.
So, while there are problems galore to be explored, none of them exist between me, my mat and my practice. Give me a few minutes and few downward dogs, and I feel better. And I need and want that “better.”
And even without the dramatic political landscape of which we are all now a part, and even if the world of yoga was a utopia— which it isn’t and never will be, in my opinion— my personal life now involves living with my parents in a new place and adapting to a big shift of priorities on a daily basis, which has altered my perspectives considerably.
At any rate, so we are clear, I am not ignorant of what is going on in the political arena, I am simply choosing not to write much about it here. And certainly, I am not blind to the many problems that seem to plague the industry in which I work, but I am not so interested in writing about them here. And, much of my life with my parents is not my story to tell, but involves personal details that belong to other people, which feel important to safeguard.
I suppose that is what is on my mind a lot these days—what it means to safeguard one another’s personhood in some way.
When my mom had a stroke four years ago, Kelly and I were with Mom and Dad in the Galapagos Islands. We had to evacuate Mom from our small cruise ship in the middle of the ocean to a mainland hospital in Ecuador. So, instead of a 10-day, vacation tour of the islands, we spent six days in a hospital in Quito.
During that time in Ecuador, I reached out to a mentor of mine who had taken care of her mother at the end of her mother’s life. I made an offhand comment that what I was going through with Mom and Dad felt like a bit of a role reversal. She said, “It would probably be best for you and them not think of it that way. What you have is an opportunity to return the care that was given to you.”
I took this perspective to heart during that trip and have leaned on her advice during this current transition into a new iteration of family life. I do not want to parent my parents and I am pretty sure they do not want that from me either. I do want to care for them and help them care for themselves and to invest some of my time and energy in helping make their golden years a bit more golden. It is my honor and privilege to return the care that they gave me.
Of course, it is not sexy work. Caring for human beings is often messy and many times, mundane. Cooking, cleaning, bathing, talking, planning, driving, and so on define the structures of the day and become the way one spends a somewhat inordinate amount of time and energy. I am not complaining, mind you. And, all of you who have mothered and fathered children know the reality I am describing better than me. The amount of time required to simply create the structures in which a dignified life can occur is somewhat awe-inspiring.
I thought I knew.
I did my best to support those doing this work.
I didn’t know.
At any rate, a dignified life is what I want for my parents. And what I want for myself with them. And, a sense of dignity is what I have always wanted from my life of practice.
Not to be confused with some kind of false sense of imported formality, the dignity of which I speak is sourced— not in social niceties or through conforming to the outer expectations of others — but in a connection with something more intrinsic and essential. I call this connection Love and I feel it in my heart as a sense of “rightness” that has a quality of inspired groundedness. And when I am referenced in this Love, my own personhood is safeguarded from the many demons and entities wanting to feed on it and I am more able to stand guard at the gate for the people I love so that they can remain as whole as possible amidst the ravages of life's inevitable challenges.
I am interested in those things that help me access this state of embodied mind and heart that I call Love. I am interested in those teaching and practices that create strength and confidence in this connection.
Many of us glimpse this Love in asana, I think. And many of us who teach— for all our fantasies and flaws, which seem to be considerable— want very deeply to serve the recognition of this Love in others. And while the pressure to pay the bills-- to keep up with the trends and the demands of the marketplace-- turn the best of us into crazy people at times, still, we stay in the game because we have tasted something Real in and through the practice and through our somewhat haphazard attempts to lead others along the path.
So, while the world is lurching along toward its own ends and while our industry has its very real problems, you will find me making breakfast (and lunch and dinner), growing a garden, practicing asana, helping mom with her bath and going to the doctor with my dad. You will find me practicing asana, hiking mountains, playing with my dog and making time for date night with my husband.
And, when the planets align and Luck smiles, I will sit down and write a bit about my process in case— just in case— some part of my journey helps you along yours.
I spent the weekend teaching at BIG Power Yoga in Houston, TX. BIG is a Baptiste affiliated studio, full of hard-working, sincere, and fun yoga practitioners and teachers. I always feel a fondness for Baptiste yoga practitioners, having worked with them back in my Anusara yoga days at Breath and Body in Austin, TX, when Desirae Pierce invited me to lead a few immersions and teacher trainings there.
So, while I am not trained in that particular approach to yoga practice, I have been a friend of their community for many years and have found that the Baptiste folks who make it into my workshops and trainings to be very high caliber students who know how to work hard and how to make use of challenge.
I often introduce a different kind of hard work than the work of power vinyasa. For instance, I don’t teach a lot of the postures in flow, I generally don’t heat the room, I explain a lot, I demonstrate a lot, I rant a lot, and I give a lot of details to work with in terms of alignment. So while the content of the work may look different, these students understand challenge and how to work with it.
Years ago, I was in line at a conference with Baron Baptiste and he shared a few thoughts on his trainings with me. It went something like this: “Well, most of us don’t really know who we are until we get squeezed. Our trainings squeeze people so they can see what kind of juice come out. Generally, it is not so sweet at first. But under the sadness, anger, and fear, the sweetness is always there. That is what it is about for me— helping people get to that.”
(Something like that. Maybe not exactly.)
Sometimes the squeeze is a different class format, sometimes it is a pose we can’t do, a longer hold than we are used to, a fellow classmate breathing too loud, a substitute teacher, a song we hate on a playlist, the heat, the not-heat, the teacher’s personality and opinions, our self-criticism, the classroom culture, a disappointing role model, a fall from grace, a destruction of some illusion we are holding onto interiorly or exteriorly, and so on. Different things squeeze different people at different times along the way. The key is not trying to not get squeezed, but to learn how we can work with the squeeze when it happens, Because the squeeze will happen.
(Keep in mind, I do not believe this applies with abuse, manipulation, coercion, etc. and so sometimes how we work with certain squeezes from certain people and situations is to get out as quickly as possible.)
The point is, the challenge is not challenge for challenge sake alone. We do not need to make practice hard just for hard’s sake. The idea is to make use of the inevitable challenges of sustained practice— which are often multiplied in group and community settings— in ways that helps us move through the bitterness of the first squeeze so we can taste—even for a moment— the nectar of what lives beneath.
Lee used to say that as a guru he had no need to test anybody. “Time,” he always said, “will test everybody.”
You know that adage from Pattabhi Jois about “Practice and all is coming”? Not one bone in my body thinks he is actually talking about poses. Of course, how do I know? I wasn’t there when he said it. I am not a member of that community of practitioners. But, nonetheless, every time I see someone repeat that quote with a picture of some newly attained posture— as though practice and time will bring all poses to every body— I cringe a bit.
First of all, that time and practice will result in an ever-increasing list of postures we can do is a myth.
I mean, it might. But, it might not.
For me, that adage speaks to the fact that life is always rolling along and all is coming with it. Sure, if we are established in practice and carving out time to be on our mats more days than not, then maybe— hopefully— we are developing awareness, strength, mobility and clarity in that domain. Maybe we will actually be able to feel that we are making progress. That is the idea, I suppose.
Or one of the ideas.
But even with a well-established and progressing practice, outside the practice space, there will be births, deaths, illnesses, new love blossoming, divorces, break-ups, partings-of-ways, new jobs, lost opportunities, misunderstandings, racial tensions, social injustice, political WTF’s and fallout galore. If we are lucky, our practice life will help us reduce our need for drama and self-destruction and perhaps we learn some better coping skills along the way. All that is great. But no matter how well we manage ourselves and our issues, still—- life will roll through and with it, the inevitable squeeze, will come.
Truly, ALL is coming.
At some point, I gave up the childish fantasy that yoga would make everything in my life better. Of course, I actually do think my life is better with yoga in it. And I enjoy being me more when I have a regular relationship with practice. However, sustained practice is no guarantee that there will be no calamity or hardship. And while it may not be a stunning conclusion to this particular blog entry to say it, the only thing practice actually seems to guarantee is practice itself. What we get from practice might just be the thing itself.
Anyway, the weekend was great. I got home Monday and then Tuesday started my series at The Yoga Tonic in Salida. Wednesday, I had my Finding Depth in the Basics webinar and today, Kelly and I had enough time to get to the high country for some hiking with Locket, who is now resting quietly in my office while I write.
Time seems to be flying by, filled with the details of living. For the most part, I feel settled in to our new circumstance here in Colorado and the process of adjusting to a more involved family life is well underway.
On the practical side of my life, the Texas property is under contract, we have unpacked most of the boxes, we have planted a vegetable garden as well as some flowers, I confirmed a venue for my 2017/2018 trainings, I taught two great workshops in June— one here in Buena Vista, CO and another in Santa Fe, NM, I updated my website, and, in addition to my current webinar on Finding Depth in the Basics, I have been back in my filming studio working on new classes for my online channel. (think lots of new flow practices to enjoy!)
Added into the mix of all that activity have been bike rides, hikes, doctor visits, cooking, cleaning and so on.
(Oh, and my napping practice is going well.Maybe not #nappingeverydamnday but #nappingmanytimesaweek.)
Like I said, the activities of daily living.
And on the inner life front, I am thinking a lot about how all my time with formal practices of asana, meditation, mantra, puja and the like, have brought me to place where I feel I am living my life rather than practicing for it.
Years ago, on a pilgrimage trip to India, my spiritual teacher, Lee, gave a talk about how eventually we would stop seeing our work as practitioners as something different or apart from our lives. He said, “What you want is to find yourself living your life and simply folding these perspectives and vantage points into your day-to-day activities with a kind of relaxed discipline.”
Seems to me that some of us in his company were better at the relaxed part while others were better at the discipline part. I tend to be a bit of a “clamp down and try to control it” sort of person and, while that temperament had some positive outcomes for me in terms of time on my mat, on my cushion, writing consistently, etc,, clamping down and always trying to do everything “better” also had some downsides that surfaced after about fifteen years. (Nothing like a good mid-life passage to help clarify patterns.)
So, here I am in my late forties glimpsing what it might mean to be a tad bit more relaxed in my approach to my life and growth. Relaxation, in this case, has less to do with outer activities and more to do with relaxing an internal grip that is held in place by “not good enough” and “I am different and misunderstood” and “It’s all my fault” and so on. (You know, the Big Ones.)
And, as the process is unfolding, it seems to me that the more I stop the incessant self-improvement strategies—even when said strategies are dressed up in yoga clothes and called practice or sadhana— the more I can allow myself to be who I am the more I can allow my students to be who they are, the happier I am, and the more effective my teaching becomes. Imagine that.
Somewhere along the way, I stopped worrying about whether I was a “good yogi” or a a “bad yogi” or if what I was teaching was “real yoga” or “athleticisized new-age hooey.” Somewhere over the last few years, I stopped worrying about why someone walked into my classroom and why they didn’t. I stopped paying so much attention to what other people where teaching and doing and stopped giving quite so much attention to what I thought about it all. After almost 20 years of teaching, I have finally realized I rarely know anyone’s motives for practice, how the seeds of the teachings are being planted within them or exactly how they are living them once they leave my class.
I even began to realize that what my teachers think of me and my studentship is really none of my business. I mean, it is nice when my teachers seems to like me, but, in a way, their approval—or lack thereof— is just another distraction away from the task at hand.
The task at hand remains the same as it always has been for me— Love. For me, practice as an expression of Love will have at its heart, the mood of relaxed discipline. For me, practice as a means to earn Love will always carry the tension of fear and inadequacy. Everything may appear the same on the surface, but the interior experience is radically different. And truth be told, when I am in fear-based inadequacy, there are always tells. But at any rate, I think the older I get, the more the truth of the interior becomes my priority over the perceptions of the surface, tells or not.
I told Kelly that I couldn’t face writing a blog on “freedom” today, but it seems that I did just that after all. For me, freedom from the tyranny of that internal grip of fear has come— not all-at-once-and-forever— but in glimpses and glances, in sips and swallows, in both fleeting insights and sustained perspectives that allow me to Love a bit more fully.
Enjoy your holiday.
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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."