"We all want to belong, to feel that we are part of something greater than our individual selves." -Gabrielle Roth, Paths to Ecstasy
“Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” ― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
I spent the last few days in re-entry mode following a 6-day workshop with Patricia Walden in Durango, Colorado. Patricia Walden is one of my favorite yoga teachers and the retreat was pretty fantastic. Patricia taught strong asana classes every morning and led sutra study, inversions and pranayama sessions in the afternoon. There were people of all ages and capacities in attendance and while it was a workshop for "Iyengar yoga practitioners" only, I was welcomed and accepted with great hospitality and kindness by the folks who were there.
As many of you know, I have done Iyengar yoga since 1991 when I got started in yoga but at the same time I am not an "Iyengar yoga practitioner". Or at least I am not only an Iyengar yoga practitioner. Much in the same way, I have learned a lot in Bikram yoga and I do not define myself that way. And even for all those years I was a certified Anusara yoga teacher, I never felt like I was an "Anusara Yogi." I taught more than a few workshops as an Anusara teacher that resulted in folks calling the home office reporting that "Christina Sell is really more like an Iyengar yoga teacher". However, if an Iyengar yoga teacher came to my workshop they certainly would not have claimed me as one of their own, as I didn't fall inside their boundaries either.
At any rate, the discussion of styles, trademarks, traditions and lineages is a bit tiring to me when it comes to asana and teaching and yet, I am respectful of the issues at hand when passing down a legacy of inspiration and preserving the depth and breadth of a certain approach. And Patricia, a senior teacher in her system, is passionate about the practice and dedicated in her discipleship to BKS Iyengar. I respect her perspective and she offers a profound transmission because she is steeped in one tradition for so long. As much as someone like me might offer something of value through synthesis, she offers something else through singularity.
At the end of the workshop I thanked Patricia for letting me into the workshop and allowing me to be part of it even though I wasn't strictly an Iyengar yoga practitioner. I told her, "You know, I am a bit of an orphan these days so I am very grateful to have a place to study and learn and get help."
And while saying those words out loud brought tears to my eyes, the tears were a mixture of gratitude and grief. Having the opportunity to learn from someone as experienced and masterful as Patricia is something I am very grateful for. I am always happy to be a student of a great teacher. So certainly, that is the gratitude part. And sometimes I miss my former days of "belonging to a system", having a primary teacher to learn from, and a defined community of which to be a part. So that was the grief aspect.
And yet, the gratitude I feel goes deeper than being a student of a great teacher. These days I feel more myself and more able to participate in yoga as my authentic self than I ever have in all my years of practice and study. Perhaps this new freedom is due to some great psychotherapy or maybe I am simply growing older, wiser and less willing to perform as a false self for a group's or a teacher's acceptance. It seems to me that being an "yoga orphan" has been an instrumental part of this new freedom I feel in my practice, studentship and teaching work. No longer bound to the obvious and/or hidden rules of participation, I am finding new ways of relating to the subject of yoga, my own practice, how I want to teach and how I want to participate in community with others. So, when I feel the grief come, I think the gentle tears are the price I am paying for something much deeper than belonging to a group. These moments of grief might simply be the price I pay for belonging to myself. And of course, to God.
More could be said on this for sure. And I am certainly not without Great Company on the path these days. In fact, the people in my life are pretty awesome and in most cases the depth of rapport I have with people now is deeper than it was previously because the current bonds are forged through greater degrees of self-honesty, introspection and clarity of intention than "belonging to the same group."
For years I have considered what it means to "belong to something greater than myself" and I have considered what the longing to belong to something greater than ourselves is all about. Just recently, it hit me square between the eyes that this "something greater" to which I long to belong is not an organization, a method or a group (although perhaps it might take that form at times) but the something greater really is the Self. Me. God. The Big It. The Real Deal. The Whole Enchilada. (okay, you get my point.)
You see, I long, not simply for a defined system of yoga that gives me a good elevator speech about "what kind of yoga I teach" and promises me a one-size-fits-all-new-paradigm-alignment-that-will-always-work-all-the-time-for-every-body but for a practice that reminds me who I most truly am and demands as much of me as it gives back to me. I long, not for a set of conventions, standards, rules and regulations that are as limiting as societies narrow definitions of reality, humanity, success and meaning, but for the ability to see those standards for what they are and for the freedom to chose the ways I will participate consciously as an adult. I long, not just for polite conversation that lives on the surface of experience but for thought-provoking, revealing, and intense moments of connection with people able and willing to be honest in their personal struggles to live in allegiance with their own "Something Greater", even when their vision of something greater may be different than mine. Yes, I long to be part of something greater but in truth, the Something Greater for which I long can not be trademarked, certified, described in an elevator speech, represented with a logo, put on a T-shirt, crafted with a brand or even be given a price tag. Nor can it come with another person's name on it and be limited to their methods, ways and means alone. Something Greater is not a corporate thing. Something Greater exists in the paradox between uniquely mine and not mine at all; of just for me and for the benefit of us all.
And so on.
Like I said, the workshop was fantastic, Patricia was awesome, the people were very nice. I got lots of asana insight as well and some great tricks to pass along in the next cycle of workshops and courses. So stay tuned for all of that.
Kelly came with me to Durango which was fun. We got to see some of our long-time friends who set us up on some super-fun mountain bike rides in the high country outside of Durango and provided some heroic shuttling per mountain passes and some great conversation about old times and new. Kelly biked every day. I went biking twice as the yoga was fairly consuming and biking does a lot for my heart, my mind and my persecutive but not so much for making asana feel fluid or even enjoyable!
We got home to our Colorado cabin on Friday and settled in. I spent the weekend catching up on emails and getting course materials ready for the Summer Session of Asana Junkies, (SIGN UP NOW IT IS GOING TO BE GREAT!) taking a few bike rides and so on. Also, me and Gioconda are hard at work crafting a great Advanced Teacher Training program and we have an online open house on Sunday August 10th and 6:30 CST so you can log on and meet us, ask questions and see if the program might be right for you.
All right, the commercial break is over. Have a good day.
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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."