Last weekend we had the 3rd Annual Intensive with me and Manorama at the San Marcos School of Yoga. After 2 1/2 days of asana Manorama joined us for satsang and Sanskrit Studies on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, which was pretty fantastic. As usual, hosting Manorama and being her student in the classroom left me with enormous amounts of insight and inspiration to integrate into my life, practice and teaching. I don't think I can do the experience justice in a blog entry but what I am left with is a feeling of gratitude for my Path and for the people with who I am sharing the journey.
Being able to offer this kind of programming is one of my favorite things about having the San Marcos School of Yoga as the center of my teaching work. After 6+ years of holding the down the fort in my own studio in the early 2000's, I have spent the last 8+ years traveling and teaching, which has been great. Over the last few years I have been shifting my focus slowly and deliberately toward more programs online and to intensives and trainings in San Marcos. As much as I love my work on the road, I love having a home for longer, intensive teaching opportunities for dedicated students who want to immerse themselves in the teachings and in community.
This weekend was a great reminder about what I love about teaching yoga and a great chance to remember that what I love about the Teaching, the practice and being in community is the way I can hear my "better angels" and my deeper truths when I am immersed in practice, study and good company. I love teaching and training yoga teachers but honestly when our typical conversations of "the business of yoga" take a back seat to consciousness, awareness, and personal inquiry it is always inspiring to me.
We had an amazing time. Manorama will be back in April 2015 so make plans now.
This week I was interviewed twice about yoga. In both instances, the interviewer asked me about how yoga changed my life. And in both cases, I had a lot of trouble answering the question directly. I might have been a bit rebellious in skirting the question. I think I knew what answer they were probably looking for. These kind of interviews often go along the lines of "before yoga I struggled with self-hatred, with bulimia and with believing in myself. Since finding yoga I now love myself, believe in myself, make healthier life choices and I have overcome a life-long battle with an eating disorder. I have an amazing job where I make a living helping people through yoga and my entire life has changed. The end."
The first answer I gave was "Yoga hasn't changed my life. Yoga is about finding what is unchanging within us, yoga is about finding the eternal within me, that me that has never changed and never will change because it is essentially beyond the conversation of change all together. "
Of course, that needs some explaining and people on a call about yoga and body image might not really care about the Changeless Self. Then again, they just might. One never really knows.
At any rate, as much as I love yoga and as much as it has been a constant in my life now for many years, I can't bring myself to say that yoga has changed my life. Certainly, my life has changed over the years and certainly yoga has been a part of helping me grow, but honestly, I do not relate to my life in yoga as a before-and-after story. For me, growth and change is more circuitous, cyclical and even cryptic in terms of its trajectory. I didn't discover the practice and then change all at once. I discovered the practice and over time certain seeds germinated, sprouted and took root within me. At first the roots were fragile, impercetible, and unbeknowst to me. Over time, the roots grew stronger, deeper and more established within me and my life. And even with strong roots, I can not honestly say that my outer life above the ground was always so charming, captivating or "changed."
I have binged and purged, lied, avoided, made trouble for myself and others all while being a yoga practitioner. There was no magic pill that delivered me to self-love after which I was never at the mercy of my patterns of self-hatred, self-doubt, jealousy, rage and insecurity. I have all that stuff I always had and I also have a practice. My practice gave me a practice. The paradox is that having a practice is life-changing but having a practice doesn't always change your life. (Or something like that.)
And even if we or our life feels changed, many times we, or it, changes back. Patanjali told us that patterns can be thinned through practice and ultimately they can even be burnt so that, like a seed cooked in a pan can no longer be sprouted, the pattern, will no longer be viable. However, he also warned us that patterns can lie dormant until an outer circumstance triggers a latent reaction. So, it seems to me that many times initial changes in yoga are reprieves because the affliction has gone dormant. Don't get me wrong, a reprieve is great. I will take what I can get in this life but one fun (and humbling) thing about growing up is seeing how many times I thought I was changed only to realize what I thought was lasting change was simply a moment of freedom.
One thing that is more and more clear to me as I go about the business of yoga practice- (And we should pause the story to say that to me yoga practice extends far beyond the boundaries of a sticky mat and refers to those practices of awareness and introspection- both formal and informal, internal and external, private and public- I engage in order to recognize and live from my Essential Self. When I say practice I mean those tools I employ to have a conscious relationship with myself. Asana is only one of those practices.) - is that there is a long stage of practice where many of us start to see that we are practicing yoga the same way we have done everything else "before yoga".
Sure, we might drink kombucha and not soda, we might have swapped the milkshake for a smoothie, coffee for tea, cow's milk for soy and so on. We might even chant some mantras and chances are good that many of us have even changed our ideas of what nightlife means. We might even remember ujayi pranayama in the midst of a fight with a friend. So sure, yoga might have "changed our lives". Or something like that. Yes. I get that. For sure.
But for many of us, if we have been around for a while we often realize a much starker truth of our situation as yogis. If we were competitive before yoga we are going to have to face the music that chances are, we are competitive in yoga. If we were critical before we rolled out a mat, chances are, after an initial reprieve where yoga does seem to fix us, we are now critical about how we do yoga, how others do yoga or how others teach yoga, etc. If we had trouble being accountable before yoga, chances are we are practice the blame game in yoga and feeling under-appreciated, misunderstood, invalidated and under-valued in yoga. We may have swapped perfectionist worldly ideals for perfectionistic spiritual ideals but what remains the same for many of us is that we are still operating from the myth that informs perfectionism.
At any rate, while this stage of practice is not pretty and this post is probably quickly becoming uninspiring for many people, I think this stage of practice is profoundly important becuase it is inviting us to move beyond our fantasy of yoga into a new stage of clarity. If yoga is about a direct relationship with reality, at some point our fantasies about the practice will need to be exposed. So while this stage to which I am referring is not exactly comfortable stage of growth I do believe that it holds tremendous possibility for our life of practice.
Personally, I am tired of magical yoga promises and expectations of quick fixes and transformational short cuts. Like I said before, I will take a reprieve when I can get it and I happily enjoy the gift of whatever freedom from the tyranny of personality comes my way on any given day and yet right now it seems to me that yoga is not about "changing my life" as much as it is about being with myself as I am.
Of course, that is life-changing.
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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."