I am writing this piece on my way home from an incredible week in Tucson. And even as I write that tonight I am thinking to myself that “wow, how many times do I take a trip and open this blog by saying just that, or something exactly like that?” (“It was awesome.” “The students were amazing.” “My host was stellar.” And so on. I mean, really. You know. You read the blog, after all.)
So look-- here is the thing. Every weekend I go somewhere new or somewhere I have been before and it is always awesome. It is actually always awesome in some way. I mean honestly, that I have a job doing what I do pretty much defines Awesome in my book. I go from one place to the next where I meet and interface with one amazing person after the next. And that is not just some kind of marketing, blog-based, BS. I actually find myself in my own life these days noticing my good fortune and enjoying the work I do in so many ways. So that part is for real. And, for the record, I didn’t always see it that way. I haven’t always felt the Awesome. That is another blog for another day but true story--I didn’t always feel the Awesome.
And while I am in a truth-telling mode, let me also say that it is not always great in every moment or anything like that. Many times, planes are delayed, dinner is later than I wish, the workshop didn’t doesn’t go as I planned, I don’t sleep well or fill-in-the-blank about some other first-world problem that occurs in the course of my travels and teaching work.
Truth be told, I suffer all kinds of philosophical upheavels around the work also. I mean here I am, teaching what might just be one of the most sophisticated subjects around-yoga, that is- in 75-minute to 3-hour chunks of time to people dressed for gym class with no required reading lists, no required homework, no tests, no objective measurements for success and no clear requirements for advancement.
And it’s worse than that, actually. I dabble (more than dabble, truth be told) in helping poeple learn to teach said sophisticated subject to others. I am part of turning other people just like me loose on the world to teach said sophiscated subject in health clubs, spas, library basements and yoga studios around the world. There is some Buddhist teaching I heard one time about the karma of being a teacher. The point was that if, as a practitioner, you make a mistake, it is your mistake. But if you are teacher the mistake is visited on your students. And so if you are a teacher of teachers, just think of the implications... Oy vey.... It is enough to keep a teacher in bed some mornings for fear of making a mistake!
So really, when say it is awesome, it is not some kind of Pollyanna persepctive of it’s-all-good and so on. I feel quite in the middle of a full-spectrum endeavor that is difficult, rewarding, catpivating, consuming, frustrating, elevating, inspiring and while certainly rich and rewarding is also ass-kicking and humbling in equal measure.
So, having said all that- Tucson was really awesome. I taught a course on Light on Yoga that I call Cracking the Code. It is an outgrowth of my work with students in teacher training using Light on Yoga as a resource for pose knowledge and clarity that then become the bedrock or foundation for sequencing strategies. Over the years, I have gotten a kind of reputation for “being good at sequencing” and so I get invited to teach on that subject a lot. After teaching a multitiude of courses on sequenceing, I found that when I try to teach sequencing to groups of teachers the invariable block we run up against is a lack of understanding of the poses themselves and how they relate to one another. And for me, Light on Yoga happens to be an incredible resource of understanding the postures and how they relate to each other.
But, here is the thing- the book is a bit daunting and hard to understand. The order and logic is not obvious at first glance. The layout is not inviting. The poses make little sense at first and are not pictured in modififed or accesible variations. And so on.
All that to say, I developed a course called Cracking the Code to theoretically and experientially invite people into a living relationship with Light on Yoga. And that is what we worked with in Tucson. So that part was awesome. The content was fantastic. (If I do say so myself and it is my blog so well, I am saying so!)
But what was really awesome was that many of the people who came to the intensive were long-time students from the last 5-6 years of workshops I have given with Darren at Yoga Oasis. So the depth of understanding, acceptance and rapport is unparalleled as we have invested so much time, energy and love, passion and time in our relationships with each other. And then there were the students of those students in the room which is so wonderful and unique. And then there were so many on-line students in attendance who have worked with me on Yogaglo, through multiple webinars and many of whom knew each other through Asana Junkies. Many of us weathered the Anusara storms and are still rolling out our mats together and exploring the teachings together and evolving the conversation from a shared body of knowledge into new frontiers of experience and insight. So for many reasons and in many ways, the group assembled was very meaningful to me and reflected a meeting of minds and hearts that was strong, potent and dare I say it, smart about yoga.
By smart I mean, not just well-studied, but reflective, discerning, honest, outspoken and inquisitive. And these days, that is the edge I want to be on. I am not so thrilled about the edge of deeper poses although I keep working those on my mat. And as a teacher I am happy to shed what insight I have about all that to the inquiring minds in front of me. And as a student I love to make breakthroughs. But what just knocks my socks off these days isn’t the poses. What is interesting to me is the quality of inquiry that happens in and through the poses in our own practice and in our shared experiences that can hold both agreement and disagreement, that honors the process of how we look into and question what we know, not just the race to a definitive answer. I am very interested in growing conscious about our context as learners and practitioners and I am very interested in any discussion that intelligently explores the boundaries, not of right and wrong, but of how we learn, how we know, how what we know changes and how we transform as our ways of knowing shift and expand.
It was a wonderful week with wonderful people. So many great teachers took time out of their lives to learn for the sake of learning and growing and being able to serve others as a result. So amazing. No certifications were offered, no designations were there to be had and and no continuing ed credits were collected and turned in. There we were, just looking at a book and looking at how we were looking at a book and being together in the process. Heaven for a yoga geek like me.
So for me, yes, it really was amazing. (even though I say that after every trip.)
Kelly and I left Austin early Thursday morning and drove to Buena Vista. We work up Friday morning thrilled to find a dusting of snow covering the mountains and bringing that wonderland type of feeling to the town. So beautiful.
As soon as the sun really came out we got on our mountain bikes and rode for a few hours which was super fun. Cold, but super fun. We got home in time to get a little to eat before heading over to Jala Blu for an Asana Junkies-style group practice. The time together was loosely based on the forward bend sequence of this last week but we didn't get through too much of it, since I stopped to give teaching points and to answer questions. But that is the whole thing about working together as a group in practice- there is a sequence, and then there is where the group is at and the immediate needs to be served. It is such a fun dynamic to play with as a guest teacher.
Ideally, I see the Asana Junkies sequences or Group Practices being incorporated into studios and communities where students have regular access to alignment-based yoga instruction so that the practice format is supported by educational classes and classes would be covering a lot of the poses on the junkies sequences in more depth. However, what is cool is that because of the conversations online we are having, students without those kinds of classes are able to get a lot of education and teachers are getting good training even if they are not "up close and personal". Obviously, there are limits to any format but all in all, its a great resource for so many reasons.
Personally, I am really enjoying having a chance to teach in Buena Vista regularly on my visits here and to contribute to the regional community in that way. Jenna, the owner and founder of Jala Blu, has been such an awesome student in my programs for so many years that it is great fun for me to be able to make some regular appearances at her place and to meet so many of her friends and students. It really means a lot to me.
After a hike on Saturday morning, Kelly and I drove to Boulder for Livia and Elliot's wedding, which was pretty awesome. I think they struck an amazing balance of traditional and modern, of fancy and relaxed and they were able to blend so many aspects of their cultural heritage with their authentic interests and beliefs. It was a great event to be part of and gave me lots of food for thought.
As the wedding "official" I had a chance to give a bit of a sermon. I spent a lot of time talking to Livia's family during the rehearsal dinner to find out about how weddings are placed in the Jewish faith and to see if I could glean some insight into the meaning behind some of the rituals that were included in the ceremony so that I could speak to them somewhat intelligently. I was moved so deeply to hear from so many of them about their faith and their ideals of family, love, tradition and redemption. I still have lots to chew on from the weekend but I did my best to give a "sermon" that spoke to who I know Elliot and Livia to be in our lives together as yogis that also honored their amazing heritage and culture that is so central to who they have become. All in all, I think it went well and the bride and groom were so very inspiring.
So we drove back to Buena Vista on Monday morning in time to spend the afternoon on our mountain bikes enjoying the fall air and doing some work on the computer. After so many years of "yoga only" or "yoga almost only" I am like a little kid with my new bike. I just love it.
One thing that has evolved for me over the last few years is a growing gratitude for all that yoga has given me and a deeper sense of enjoyment in my teaching work and in my students and in the subject. But sitting right along that appreciation is the recognition that I spent A LOT of time between the ages of 27 and 44 in yoga studios and ashrams studying the subject of yoga and not nearly enough time in nature hiking mountains, riding a bike and swimming in lakes. Somehow in all the study of how to live a life according to "yoga", I stopped doing a lot of the things I once loved and enjoyed.
So, this is certainly not some big sob story and I am very resolved about the choices I have made over the years and very happy with where my choices have taken me, but I am also very happy to be reclaiming, not just certain activities, but the part of me for whom those activities are so important and meaningful.
It started to dawn on me that I didn't want to turn 54 and look back over the last 10 years and have built some kind of yoga empire and yet not actually climbed a mountain or ridden a bike and that while my back bends were good, my personal life wasn't. (Okay, that is dramatic-sounding and I do not mean it that way, exactly. We all know we all love teaching and it is rewarding and the practice is amazing and it all helps us find the inner wilderness without ever leaving home and all that. I mean seriously, yoga asana and its accompanying practices are that good. And yet....well, hmm.... if I don't ride a bike so I have good back bends and I really love riding a bike, one must ask a few more questions of themselves, right?)
I suppose it's just good mid-life crisis (or as my therapist says Mid-Life Passage) kind-of-work to be doing.
A few years ago I had several conversations with three different 60+-year old yogi's who I respect a lot and have been in a life of practice and "in the business" since before yoga really was a business. Each one of them said almost the exact same words to me: "Do not make yoga your life. Have a life and do yoga." Because each of these three people are yoga heroes to me I have chewed on this instruction a lot. Oh sure, I would take a break and do what I was doing for a few weeks or months and then I would return to this clue and chew some more. I would be sure I "had it" and then realize, well, no, maybe I don't. And so on. For the last 3-4 years.
Not that I am done chewing because when you enter a stream of teaching that says Life is the Teacher, Life is the Doorway to All That Is and so on, it gets a little fuzzy about what is life and what is yoga. This is where the chewing comes in. I believe we have to sit with questions and live with a certain measure of uncertainty in the process of finding our own answers. And even among of community of people who do largely the same practices, we may find radically different answers to very similar questions. So, while it's not exactly clear to me where yoga ends and where "life" begins I am living my way into my own expression of their advice these days and very much enjoying the process.
The thing is, you can't ever get too far away from yoga if you are me. I mean, I am out riding my bike thinking about how riding a bike relates to yoga and how mountain biking and road biking are both great but one is like flow and one is like alignment-based yoga and so on. So its not exactly "other" than yoga and yet, there is a quality that is a bit different.
I am in a fun process and one that is very meaningful to me for a lot of reasons. I think there are great points of distinction like yoga and life, yoga and asana, yoga as a life and teaching yoga, teaching yoga as a path of practice, personal life and public life, and so on. And the thing is that the way my yoga mentors lived their answer might be a little different than the way I live my answer and that is totally cool.
Seems somewhere along the way in all of this I began to value personal, individual experience and expression within yoga in a deeper, more profound way. As much as I have benefited from conforming to systems, the irony is that that work took me deep into differentiation.
Obviously, more could be said, but those are my views after a day of hiking in high elevation. (Or picking in high cotton, as my friend Gretchen-ji might say.)
We had a great time in San Marcos this weekend with Mari Young. We spent the mornings with mantra and meditation and then a strong asana practice. Then after a short lunch break we worked with Mari on Dream Yoga and exploring the inner work of symbols, dreams and the unconscious.
I have written about the topic of discernment and spiritual authority a lot over the last few years but it seems to me that as a yoga community we are in a bit of a transition in regards to our relationship with these themes. I personally think old models have collapsed in the last few years primarily because it is time for us to grow into a new relationship with the teachings that involves a greater degree of independent thinking, autonomy and self-affirmation.
Paradoxically, it can be helpful to have good teachers to help us learn those things. Of course there is a paradox. This is yoga I am talking about which seems to be mostly "paradoxes to embrace rather than problems to solve." It is like in asana- yes, listen to the wisdom of your body but sometimes we need help cracking the code and teachers can help us with that. Our body may be telling us everything we need to know but we may need help learning to speak and understand its language. So as a teacher I am more interested these days in working on the tools of how to "crack the code" or perhaps we might call that "tools of the trade of studentship" than I am in teaching people what I think they should find or experience in the practice. Okay, more on that as time goes on. It is not quite a digression but it is heading that way...
So as we worked with dreams and decoding some of our own inner language of symbols I was really struck by how this avenue of inquiry can be very helpful to us as modern day yogis exploring how to relate to a tradition from another time, another culture and how to teach the principles of practice in such a way that wisdom grows as a result as opposed to greater division, dogma and dependency. There is, after all, a bit of inner work required to navigate the domains of what the teaching says, what we think and feel about what it says and how we might practice certain principles and why we might chose not to implement others. I mean different teachers see the work of the arms in chataranga differently and we are still in the bio-mechanical domain which is more concrete. Imagine the nuances and difficulty when we get to the sticky wicket of ethics!
Anyway, over and over again I was so inspired by the wisdom speaking to the members of the group through their dreams and the potent access point they could be if we could truly mine them for the gold they offer us. We had great conversations both in the sessions and on the breaks. The asana sessions were fun, intelligent and challenging. Everyone in the room was a yoga teacher with a committed and sustained practice and we navigated through the asana with plenty of work for the body and lots of curiosity for the mind and joy for the heart. And we laughed a ton.
All in all, an amazing intensive.
Scenes from the Fall Intensive 2013
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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."