I am home from Hollywood, Florida where I spent the weekend at YogaOne with Darlene and Steve Feinzig. This was my third visit to YogaOne and I really felt like I was coming home to good friends and good family. Darlene and Steve have owned YogaOne for eight years and have grown their studio into a thriving and vital center of community and learning. I loved seeing so many of their students in attendance- many of whom were at their very first weekend workshop ever.
It seems like I say a lot of the same things about the trips I return home from these days. Perhaps that is because every place I have gone to lately has had such similar themes for me personally and professionally. It has been almost two years now since I first resigned from Anusara yoga and I while I was not worried that I would be able to keep teaching yoga and paying my bills (after all, I just don’t have that many bills). I was aware that I was leaving a network and community of people I had grown to love and appreciate and I was a bit worried about what that would be like for me. I didn’t anticipate that two years later my connections to many of the folks in the kula would be even stronger than they were when we were all affiliated formally with Anusara yoga.
It seems to me lots of relationships were tested and tempered over these last few years and for me I find that the ones I have now ring with such depth and honesty that I find them more enjoyable than ever. I think the people I am with now know where I stand and how I feel and I know their true feelings more clearly and the shared honesty creates a greater intimacy and a more enjoyable coming together. The shift in my experience as a teacher and friend is quite profound. So for sure that dynamic is in the background of my enjoyment and gratitude these days.
We didn’t work with a single guiding theme for the practice this weekend but several good teachings emerged over the weekend, starting with Steve’s introduction which was “get what you get and don’t complain”. I riffed on that a bit because “life as it is” is such an amazing paradox in yoga. There is an ongoing teaching/endeavor in yoga that is centered around acceptance, letting things be as they are, going with the flow and even personally or psychlogically speaking, affirming that we are just fine how we are. And of course, there is the additional thread of teaching which is all about vision, tapas, transformation, change and the very practical and much-needed work on self. So there is a way that we “get what we get” and there is also a way we work for and “ceate what we want” and both threads are valid in yoga practice.
I think the serenity prayer is helpful in embracing the paradox of these two threads because we learn that there are things that life brings our way- from body size and proportions, to psychological predispositions, to family members’ health and well-being, and even natural disasters and calamities over which we have not control and we must use yoga to help us learn to accept those things. No amount of yoga will help my arms get longer, will make me taller or will keep my loved ones from getting sick or stop the storms in the sky. There is certainly a domain over which yoga has no power to affect change and about which yoga offers no “promise” of things getting better. Also in this category are those particular life lessons that are perfectly designed for us to learn and to grow from.
And even though yoga doesn’t change those outcomes, I am personally grateful to have tools and practices to utilize during those periods of challenge and in the face of those situations. In the midst of all that we can’t change, isn’t awesome to have a community of people around who remind you to breathe deeply and a place to go to connect your breath to your body and your mind to your movement? Isn’t it wonderful that even when someone we love is sick, we have the refuge of our practices and the Light of the Teachings? I mean really, what a blessing. So even though yoga can’t fix that stuff, still that doesn’t mean yoga has no place in it.
But then there is a whole domain of experience over which we do have control and about which we can affect great change and through which we experience profound shifts. And that is the second line of the prayer. While a very real case can be made that “yoga doesn’t change things” it is also true that when we step into our practices regularly and get more oriented in what is true within us as opposed to what is false, we start wanting different things for ourselves, we start making different choices and we start training our responses to resonate with our authentic self as opposed to what we discover was less real. It is not an overnight thing or an all-at-once occurance that comes with fireworks blasting, trumpets blowing or drums that roll. Well, not for me anyway.
Most of the sustained shifts and changes I have made through my practices are slow peelings away and slow unfoldings that ebb and flow but move me decidedly in the direction of my heart. And sure, occasionally the shifts I feel called to require hunkering down a bit and need an application of will or the making of a big decision and so on. After all, breaking habits on any level and shifting to new behaviors and situations often requires courage, fire, and some sacrifice. Even still, when it comes to the work on the mat I think the shifts come in the gradual recalibration of our resonance.
We see it in our students all the time, right? After a year or so “angry lady” just isn’t so pissed off, “sad girl” seems happier and “quiet, loner guy” is talking to people after class is over. (and, of course, these are generalizations.) The glimpses of truth we get through the postures and in class and practice start to add up and become a more stable point of orientation. It’s so cool. I know for me, those shifts also required some therapy, some bodywork, and tools beyond asana so when I say “yoga” I mean the whole ball of wax that helps us be more conscious and aligned with ourselves.
And really the juciy part of these practices lives in the wisdom to know the difference and the maturity to know what yoga can and can’t do for us. As amazing as I think the teachings are and as inspiring as the practices can be, I also think living the yoga is a very practical and down-to-earth endeavor. In a very real way, for me, yoga practice gives us more of itself. What you get from practice is practice. And practice doesn’t make some problems go away. Not at all. Terrible things happen to yogis and the people they care about that are very difficult to understand. All the time. A life of practice is no guarantee, in my opinion, that things will turn out in such a way that we are safe from betrayal, heartbreak, tragedy and loss. On one level, yoga doesn’t change things.
But on the level where we sabotage ourselves because we have self-hatred patterns and on the level where our lack of love for ourselves leads us to poor choices in self-care, interpersonal relationships and so on, the glimpses of our goodness and the depth of our nature we experience in yoga can lead to profound changes over time and very different choices in our lives off the mat.
This theme emerged over and over all weekend because it lives in every pose. Every pose is like a little life challenge. Some things we can’t change in the moment- our size, our shape, our current health, etc. And some thing we can- we can watch the demo to glean new info, get a prop, use a modification, try a new technique or approach, work a little harder, work a little differently, stretch a little longer, etc. And we always have to sort out when to change ourselves and when to change the pose and that wisdom to know the difference might just be the best and hardest lesson of all.
Yoga helps us endure what can not be cured and cure what need not be endured.
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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."