“Consciousness, which tends to contract,
expands when a group of people come together with a common aim.”
— Paul Muller Ortega *
I spent last weekend teaching a 3-day intensive with my long-time friend and colleague, Darren Rhodes, at his yoga studio, Yoga Oasis. We have taught over 1000 hours of teacher trainings together and countless intensives and workshops. In many ways, Darren and I grew up together in yoga, first meeting almost twenty years ago in Anusara yoga workshops with John Friend. As I have written before, Darren and the Yoga Oasis community are a vital part of who I am as a practitioner and teacher. I always learn a lot about myself, about the larger implications of my practice, and about the shared journey of yoga when I visit Yoga Oasis.
After Darren and I resigned our licenses to teach Anusara yoga, we explored the possibilities of continuing to teach collaboratively. As it became clear we were taking different directions in our teaching work, we stopped teaching together. A few years ago, I pitched the idea of a yearly team teaching weekend to Darren. He agreed. This year was the second annual weekend called “The Work.”
I first heard the term, ‘The Work” from Lee Lozowick, my spiritual teacher, in reference to The Fourth Way teachings by G.I. Gurdjieff. I am not a formal student of the Fourth Way, but I have been around its principles and practices for many years. Same with Darren. More could certainly be said about that another time.
As is usually the case at Yoga Oasis, the room was full of seasoned, sincere, passionate practitioners and teachers willing to dive deeply into self-observation, self-reflection, and self-awareness. Last year, our workshop ended with a strong discussion about how work on, and with, one’s self relates to privilege— racial, economic, gender-normative, etc. This year, the topic of privilege surfaced on the morning of the second day, as though, as a group, we had simply pressed “pause” for a year.
Of course, not everyone who was in the room this year was in the room last year. And not everyone who was in the room last year returned this year. And, truth be told, because time does not actually have a pause button, the conversation that began in the room continued personally for participants when they returned home and collectively within the unfolding of larger cultural streams. For me, due to a confluence of many factors, discussing the high ideals of yoga without acknowledging the gross inequities of our cultural paradigm, is to be tone deaf at best and, at worst, to be a willing participant in a sick, societal norm.
Don’t get me wrong. I do not think every Wednesday night asana class should begin with a diatribe about systemic oppression, the evils of misogyny, and the tragedy of how those forces are often internalized and operative in our personal biases and behaviors. I mean, Wednesday night class might be a great place for those kinds of considerations if a group was ready for the message. However, in the same way that preparation is important for advanced asana, a certain measure of preparedness can be helpful when considering the nuances of how personal work both is, and is not, political.
Personally, I think yogis are perfectly poised to unravel the knots of culturally-conditioned belief systems, because I believe unraveling conditioning is what yoga is actually about. The number of people who have unravelled the knots of their personal anxiety, depression, addictions, eating disorders, self-hatred, etc. through yoga indicates that re-wiring toxic patterns is possible through yoga. Of course, yoga practice works best on the knots to which we are applying the technology and not so great on the stuff we don’t, can’t, or won’t look at. And, keep in mind, I make plenty of distinctions between what it means to practice yoga and simply practicing asana or going to public classes. When I say “practice” I am referencing a larger endeavor that sometimes involves, but is never limited to, postural practice.
As I am writing, I am feeling that there is an impersonal nature to transformational group work. As personal as our yoga practice is, as deeply meaningful as our experiences can be, and as unique as each student’s perspective is, the conversation that began in the room last year, continued with different people in the room this year. Not to sound too far-out, but on one level,it is almost as if there is a conversation wanting to be had looking for a place to come into being, a place to land.
One key piece of clarity I offered the group this year was that I believe it is important to look squarely at certain problems and investigate our inner life in relationship to those issues before jumping to a solution. For instance, before figuring out how to make our studios and classes more inclusive, which is a wonderful aim, it is important to unravel the many ways our own biases and blind spots operate. Any good workshop facilitator can give a script for inclusive language and teach us how to say the right things and avoid saying the wrong things, but if those scripts are funneled through our own unexamined perspectives, there will be unconscious toxic energy behind our well-intentioned words. Additionally, we run the risk of trying to help as a way to avoid the pain of our complicity rather than doing the work to face what lives in the shadows of our culturally-conditioned psyches.
Of course, exploring problems without immediate solutions takes fortitude and stamina, which is where yoga practice comes in. In the same way, a yoga practice is built slowly over time, our capacity to grapple with the challenging issues of our times, for all its urgent necessity, is also going to built slowly over time. As we see the structures of our culture continually exposed as unjust and/or incapable of managing the moment in which inhabit as a human race, I believe we are also seeing— at least in many communities— yoga students and teachers grappling with how to cope, contribute, and evolve. We are not necessarily good at the work yet, and I expect to make plenty of mistakes along the way, and yet, the same dedication we bring to practice can be brought to bear on the messy business of standing together to insist upon “a more perfect Union… and to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
As is often the case, I left Tucson feeling inspired by the everyone who was part of the weekend and heartened by the experience we shared.
And for those of you white men reading, or folks who know white men who are reading, I have a friend, Chris Crass, who is offering an online seminar focusing on Anti racism and feminism for white, male faith leaders. If you practice and teach yoga, please consider yourself a faith leader and avail yourself of an opportunity to dive deep into your personal work and to learn practical tools for bringing love, faith and justice into your practice and teaching. Please help get the word out about this seminar. https://www.facebook.com/events/518295371989664/
I head to New Orleans for a weekend workshop today. I am looking forward to my last teaching weekend of 2018 and then some time home to snowboard, read, practice and prepare the course materials for my upcoming Asana Junkies webinar. More on that soon.
*I have this quote written in my personal notes from when Paul spoke at an Anusara yoga Certified Teacher’s Gathering in Denver. I think it was around 2006, but I do not have the date in my notes.
Follow This Blog
"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."