I met Stacey Millner-Collins almost ten years ago when I had the opportunity to assess her Anusara yoga certification video. I remember how dynamic and strong she was as a teacher, how skillful her students were, and how powerful her message beyond the asana was. When we were discussing her video, (She passed on the first try, by the way.) she told me about how great her community was. I first taught at City Yoga in 2011 and made several visits over the years. This weekend was the first time I have been back to teach in over five years. I believe this visit was better than ever, due largely in part to the ways that Stacy has been a trustworthy steward of the teachings and her students and teachers.
The City Yoga community is a shining example of what long-standing, Spirit-led leadership can look like when such leadership is met with sincere and dedicated students and sustained for more than a decade. For all the problems in the world of modern yoga, I visit many studios that exist as places of sanctuary, hope, and healing. Don’t get me wrong— every studio has issues, conflicts, and problems they face. My point is that for all the places where yoga seems to be broken, there are many places where yoga is working. City Yoga is one of those places.
Last weekend, I was teaching in Tucson when the news of the Philadelphia synagogue shooting was announced. This weekend, while I was teaching, we heard the news of a yoga studio shooting in Tallahassee. My Facebook feed was flooded with outrage, upset, and prayers of concern, none of which was surprising, and all of which I understand. I am fortunate to know many politically-engaged yoga teachers and practitioners in my immediate circles of association, which I am told is unusual. I suppose I keep good company.
And, of course, there was more than one person in my feed who posted about the yoga studio shooting who have remained silent on every other national calamity. That is a post for another day.
That being said, I also spend a lot of time in conversation with teachers and students about what is our responsibility as teachers in the classroom during this unique time in history. Do we stay silent about current events and let the yoga do what it does? Do we use our platform as teachers to speak out against injustice, oppression, and systemic issues that manifest in the almost-daily atrocities that show up in our news feeds? I have no practical advice for what anyone else should do.
For me, the teachings and practices of yoga have the capacity to help me only to the degree that I admit what I need help with.
Will yoga help with addiction? Sure, but yoga going to be of greater help to me once I admit I have a problem.
Will yoga help with the ways that I have been indoctrinated into unconscious bias due to living in a culture founded on systemic, institutionalized racism? Yes, but only to the degree that I acknowledge I need help with unraveling the knots of those conditioned patterns.
Will yoga help me feel more peaceful? Sure, but yoga is going to provide only a cosmetic, surface-level solution until I recognize the pockets of anger, violence, and vindictiveness that live inside me.
And so on.
From the personal to the cultural, from the psychological to the political, yoga’s utility in my life exists in direct relationship to my willingness to see, and give voice to, what is actually going on, not what I wish was happening.
To be clear, I do not advocate standing in front of a room a bashing all things Republican. Nor, do I think anything of value will be accomplished with a F*ck Trump tirade from the front of the room. I do not think we need to proclaim that, “chances-are-as-a-white-women-in-a-pair-of-expensive-yoga-tights-you-might-just-be-unconsciously-invested-in-toxic-patriarchy-and-so-before-your-first-down-dog-today-you-need-to-check-your-privilege.” And while that essential idea may be true, it’s not going to create a teachable moment or a change from within for anyone in the class.
(To be clear, I am grateful for the disturbing voices in the world of activism who have said just that so that I could examine myself in relationship to my upset, defensiveness, and recoil when my “I do good things in the world” identity meets up with the impact of how marginalized groups often feel in the face of me personally, or me as part of a larger demographic— a.k.a. white women. Again, commentary on this aspect of my post is part of a future post where I will write about my own white woman fragility in the first person. My point is that I have been upset and I have felt uncomfortable in ways that have helped me grow and know myself more fully. As a yoga practitioner, I am grateful for these learning opportunities. Truth be told, I rarely like being called out, I hate not getting it “right” and, more importantly, I have come to know there is more to me than the drive of perfectionism, more to my role than keeping people comfortable, and more to my life than maintaining and contributing to a sick, societal norm.)
When it comes down to to brass tacks, I am interested in yoga only so much as it is practical, accessible, and applicable to my life. While I am truly inspired by Possibility, I am anchored in reality. And so I speak to that in my classroom.
I closed our weekend with a story. Anusara yoga got its name from a passage in the Kularnava Tantra. The text opens with Shiva seated on the mountain top in deep meditation. Parvati has climbed the mountain to see her Beloved and she begins by extolling his virtues: “Oh great guru, You who are omniscient, ever-present, and steeped in the deepest Reality… and so on. (I am paraphrasing here as I am on a plane and do not have the actual text AND more than a few years have passed since I read the actual verse to which I am referring.) She goes on saying, “You who are the Highest of the High, the Deepest of the Deep, tell me…. I have been in the world and I have seen suffering and people are hurting. Please, oh great Lord, tell me what I can do to help….”
And Shiva answers her, outlining a path of the Heart, a path of the family of the Heart, that makes human life an opportunity to bring the Highest into form. In one passage, Shiva says that on the path of the Kula “one's enjoyment becomes yoga, one’s sin is made into art, and all life is liberation.” He basically says, “You— IN THE WORLD— strengthened by ME ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP— are the answer to the suffering you are hoping to heal.”
So, go to the mountain top, dive to the depths of the oceans within you, and find whatever access point you can to what is Highest and Deepest within you and then, because it is your duty, because to stay silent would betray the majesty of what you know to be true, because you want to Help, speak to the beauty of Spirit, testify to its power to strengthen you in the face of suffering, and unapologetically invite people into that same place inside themselves.
Each one of us is the answer. More importantly, each one of us together we can be the meeting point of Heaven and Earth that the text points to as the Possibility of the Path and the end to unnecessary suffering.
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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."