We had another amazing weekend down in San Marcos with the 2nd Annual Light of the Spirit Intensive. We began on Thursday and did 2 full days of very strong asana practice. Over the weekend we had morning asana classes and then class/satsang with Manorama during the afternoon. It was a really amazing time.
One of the the things I most appreciate about Manorama's teaching is that she takes a lot of time to actually outline and speak to the optimal context to have as student and practitioner of yoga. Last year when she was here she said to the group very clearly, "There is the subject and there is the study of the subject. You study the the subject AND you have to study how to learn the subject." It reminded me of how I teach people in Teacher Training that part of what we are doing as teachers is teaching people yoga and part of what we are doing is training them how to take our class. For instance, if we want a certain learning environment to occur, we have to train people to participate in our class and how to benefit from our presentation. If we use demos or if we want silence, etc. we have to train people in the those protocols since rarely do our students come to us knowing what we expect from them. (Believe me, I learned this one the hard way.)
So, part of learning the subject of yoga and approaching the subject of Sanskrit is to establish ourselves in an honest, kind, compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves. While tapas and fire is sometimes required, it seems to me that the inner work of yoga simply does not respond well to force. In fact, Manorama said "should's are the surest way to sabotage your practice." I watch this a lot these days where so many people have access to so much information about yoga that there are longer and longer lists about how we "should" be practicing and all the things we "should" be doing to be great yogi's. And while I think the education is amazing, I also watch a kind of perfectionistic overlay occur. For instance, someone asked me a question about when it is best to practice headstand. They had read that Mr. Iyengar said it is best to practice it in the morning when your mind is fresh and they wanted to know my thoughts on that teaching.
It is always funny to me when I am asked to give commentary on Mr. Iyengar's teachings because I hold him and his wisdom and experience in the highest esteem. I chuckle when people ask me if I agree with him on issues or not because I consider him such a high authority on the subject of yoga. Having said that, I must say that when we consider some of his teachings- like when it is best to do headstand- we have to look to his context and apply these teaching relative to our context, not his. What do I mean? Well, a teaching like "headstand is best practiced in the morning while your mind is fresh" assumes several things:
1.) your mind is fresh in the morning which is not the case for all of us.
2.) you have the morning free from making PB&J from your kids, from commuting to work, etc.
3.) you have the whole day open and malleable so that you can organize your schedule around making the best headstand possible.
While these things may be the case for some of us, most yoga practitioners that I know have very different circumstances as householders so that kind of advice becomes a "should" and it thwarts their efforts. I see students not practice headstand at all since it can't be done in the morning. (Or fill in the blank about whatever perfect standard gets in the way for you.) So do I agree with him? Sure, I mean he is the master. Who am I to "disagree" with him? Do I implement that teaching or tell others that they should? No. I do not not make an issue of that kind of advice because the best time for headstand for most of us is whenever we can fit it into our day. Our context of implementation is different than the context of that advice.
Lee used to say that "Context is Everything" and it was a multi-faceted teaching to be sure. But think about it--there is tons of content about yoga. Tons. Thousands of years of content. To make use of any or all of that information, we have to stay close to ourselves, to own context for practice, our own reasons for engaging the Teachings and we need to be clear about the context that teachers have for what they are saying when they are saying it. Yoga, as a pathway to the experience of totality is going to have to say everything. Sometimes intensity is required. Sometimes yielding is required. Sometimes activity, sometimes rest. If you gather a bunch of Lee's students around and interview them about "What Lee Said" it is pretty hilarious because he told different people different things at different times.
The "Lee Said" game is an exercise in futility if you are looking to getting the content to be consistent. But his context never wavered. He had one message: Life As It Is is the Master. Be a student of That. (In fact, he said he was a Slave to that flow but that is a strong teaching that needs a lot of unpacking and might best be reserved for anther day.) The context is that whatever is happening is the teacher. Now, how we might respond to whatever is happening has a variety of permutations and might look very different across the spectrum of time, personality and circumstance. And since we are never absent from the practice of yoga, a lot of our ability to sustain our efforts over time has to do knowing ourselves and not over-reaching.
As always it was great to spend time with Manorama and lean into her context a bit. Another fun thing was the intensive was small. We had 12 people or so for the first 2 days so I did the asana with everyone and we went very deep into things. We doubled in size for the weekend which was still a very intimate gathering. It's a rare circumstance these days to be in such close company and it felt very old-school to me. And yet, well, it seems the old school may just be the new school. Next Practice Intensive is in May. Asana Junkies-style which means sequence review followed by guided group practices for 4 days.
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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."