Kelly and I have been home a few days from our trip and have been recovering, little by little, from some pretty serious jet lag. I felt next-to-no jet lag when we landed in Sydney but the return trip has been another story. Brutal.
After we left Sydney we made our way to Jakarta to teach an intensive called the Power of Practice. My host, Mona, told me that the traffic in Jakarta is so bad that many people have to spend several hours in a car just to get to and from a yoga studio, which makes it very difficult to go to regular public classes to learn and practice yoga. She asked me if I would teach a course on developing a home practice so that these people could gain some tools for practicing at home. I agreed and we had a three-day intensive that was a blend of theory, class and personal practice.
After Jakarta, we went to Singapore. This was my third visit to Singapore so it felt like a homecoming to me. I was happy to see many of the students back to go deeper in their studies. My journeys to Singapore began back in July 2012 when Noah and I began a teacher training program there. Since that time his work and my work took many different turns but a core group of students weathered the changes in the program and returned six times over the almost 2 years to complete 300-hours of classroom study.
I am always amazed that any of us can finish these programs! 300-hour training programs are an immense commitment of time, energy, attention and money and so many thing arise throughout the duration of a program that threaten to derail a participant's initial goals. Sometimes, the program isn't what they expected and they can't reconcile the differences. Sometimes people move, get pregnant, get divorced, change jobs, have a family member get ill, etc. There are many ways the content changes person to person, but when we actually make it to the end of a program with graduates, I am always impressed, grateful and full of bittersweet feelings since completion is a happy thing but endings are often a bit nostalgic.
This group was no different. I am always stuck by the way a group who does a training together forms so many deep bonds. Almost every graduate shared two things with the group about what they feel like the got from the training: 1.) Their personal practice improved and 2.) They made deep connections with the group and were amazed by the supportive friendships they formed.
These kinds of testimonies are very touching and inspiring to me and renew my faith in the work we are all doing together.
A while back I wrote a blgc called Real Yoga spawned some lively discussion and even another blog entry about branding called A Girls' Gotta Eat. And as meaningful as the conversation of personal brand was (and in fact, it has continued to give me much food for thought and reflection) I was actually not writing the first entry about personal branding as much as I was writing about branding yoga in general and making a point about all the commentary out there about Real Yoga and who, if anybody, is teaching it and how and so on. Of course, the hot topic that stood out was about personal banding and why we should and shouldn't do it and so on, which is NOT the point of this article, although I do have more to say about it since those articles.
I think a lot about what is Real Yoga these days and the more I consider it the less I feel like I even know what it is any more. From what I can tell, yoga has always been re-inventing itself and walking a dynamic line between its timeless teachings and the evolution of the culture in which the yoga is practiced. In one way, the teachings are aiming us beyond time, space, culture, gender, etc. There is also the way that yoga is adapted to different times, places, circumstances and temperaments. Teaching yoga in different countries and cultures always makes me consider these dynamics because while yoga's roots are in India, its future legacy lives in the hands of practitioners around the world.
Some days the legacy seems assured to me and I feel like future generations will have access to the teachings of silence, stillness, introspection, skillful action and will be able to use yoga techniques to find out more about their inner landscape. Other days, I am not so sure as I see the practice grow increasingly social, modernized, extroverted and motivated by more and more conventional values. (And so we are clear and so I do not sound like I am on my Yoga High Horse here, I see this dynamic inside myself, not just in the outer culture. I am an Instagram Yoga Practitioner, a shameless participant in social media-izing my practice and the line between living my dharma and cannabalizing my inner life for work is sometimes blurry. I am sometimes too-entertaining as a teacher and I am as likely as anyone to get pulled into the stream of group-think when it comes to my own life.)
So, I think on these things a lot. A friend of mine told me the other day that the Real Yoga discussion isn't even interesting to the generations of yogis who are starting to come to yoga now. Their yoga is and always has been this yoga that people who came into yoga in its early iterations are criticizing. The newer generation's yoga has always had social media, creative musical accompaniment, hot rooms, big studios, yoga super stars, fancy pants and career opportunities. And-- key point-- it has always felt Real to them. My friend told me that, in her observation, the concern over Real Yoga- what it is and who is doing it, etc.- is a decidedly 40-year old person/practitioner's concern. Not sure if she is right or not but that was a new angle for me to consider for sure.
So, I could go in a lot of directions with this. Such as if it feels Real, is it? If we are told something that is false is Real and we believe it are we, like Patanjali warned us, living in ignorance by definition? Isn't possible, that over time, we could even lose the ability to recognize and discern that place in us where yoga points us from the gratification of our likes, wants and more personality-driven ideals? If we commodicize a spiritual practice, aren't we going to be at the mercy of the market? And so on. And on. And on. And if you know me and sit down with me for a while, you know this is a topic about which I think a lot.
And like I said earlier, the more I think about it, the fewer rigid lines I am able or willing to draw because I watch the ways the practice is shifting the people I teach and with whom I practice. I watch this "Potentially Not Real Yoga" give people a way to come together with themselves and with each other in and through the body, the breath and movement. I watch this "Potentially Not Real Yoga" forge bonds of friendship, end crises of isolation, give meaning to challenge and provide hope in times of darkness. I watch this "Not Real Yoga" inspire people to step out of old patterns, to listen to themselves and to take risks to know and express themselves on increasingly deeper levels.
And I see this "Potentially Not Real Yoga" show us our shadows. I watch people get angry, find pockets of grief and sadness they never knew existed, and learn to have a fuller and not always nicer, experience of themselves. I also watch us reist those lessons until we outgrow our ability to live in the old ways. I have seen as much jealousy and competition in yoga as in any other industry or endeavor. I watch us all make mistakes and hurt ourselves and each other and it seems to me that we do this under a more scrutinizing lens as practitioners than we ever would if we lived only by conventional values and standards. I watch us struggle with ourselves to bear up under the friction that sometimes exists between our heart's calling and our behavioral choices and emotional capacities. I watch us learn to say "I am sorry". I watch us learn to say, "I can not forgive yet." I watch us learn to stay in the game.
So, I don't know if it is Real Yoga anymore. I really don't. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. I do know I care less these days about what we call it. Because in the midsts of the posing for Instagram, chiming in on Facebook, writing our blogs, working on our branding and #hashtaggingouryogaeverydamday, something seems to be happening in many people that is beneficial. Obviously, all kinds of train wrecks and casualties exist as well and while I visit those places and read the reports, that reality is not one in which I can live for too long. The complaints and observations- valid and otherwise- all fade when I return to me and my practice. My body. My breath. My posture. My movement. My heart. My path. My practice. In the sanctity of practice, so many difficulties seem to find their own resting place without conflict. They do not go away, mind you, they just rest in themselves and not in my emotions and mind so much. And, as a teacher, when I live in the smiles and stories of my students and the evidence of how they are unfolding in their lives, the notion of is this Real Yoga or not seems a bit pedantic.
All right. Onward with the day.
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