Well, I had an amazing time this last weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland at Willow Street Yoga. I taught a 4-day Intensive called Live the Light of Yoga. We had asana classes open to all levels every morning and a Teacher’s Session every afternoon in which we explored Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar as a resource for practice and teaching. Natalie MIller, the owner and director of Willow Street Yoga, and I talked about how much I love the book Light on Yoga and how so many teachers know they are supposed to use that book (for instance it is on the required reading list of almost every Teacher Training out there) but for many people the book remains an obscure, almost archaic-seeming book that is inpenetrable and hard to understand, much less relate to. Natalie asked me if I would teach a course for teachers on the book to help people “crack the code” of Light on Yoga so that they might come into a more personal relationship with its contents through discussion, experiential excercises and practice.
Of course, this kind of super-yoga-nerdy-workshop is my favorite kind of thing these days. I jumped at the chance to talk about Light on Yoga and to touch base with the larger themes of how each one of us might live from the Light of Yoga that we practice and teach; meaning how we might live in touch with our Spiritual Light. Willow Street Yoga, with its long-standing committment to alignment-based yoga, spiritual principles and community spirit was the perfect place to teach this course for the first time because the students are so well-trained in alignment and are so adept at navigating between the physical asana and the metaphyscial principles the asanas embody.
We really had a good time.
I reminded the group A LOT that I am not an Iyengar Yoga teacher nor was the training an Iyengar Yoga workshop in any way. The course was just me, hybrid-yoga-teacher-Christina Sell, offering some insights, tips and ideas based on my own experiences as a student and practitioner of the book as well as some very good Iyengar, Anusara and Bikram yoga teachers. Another amazingly refreshing part of the weekend for me was in the clarity the people in the community had in terms of their individual and collective relationship to Anusara yoga. The students were comofrtable talking about what they saw as Anusara’s strengths, weaknesses, invaluable contributions as well as the recent events influencing that particular stream of yoga. There was an open, intelligent and respectful inquiry into comparisons and contrasts between the postures, the key alignment of different systems as well as the ways that different methods present postures and philosophies.
I am a fan of comparison. If I were to go back to school again, I am pretty sure I would go back and study comparitive religion. I simply love looking at things in relationship to each other. I love learning how both simliarity and difference defines systems, beliefs and approaches to learning, to practice and to perception. Some people misunderstand my comparing and think I am being critical when I compare and contrast in class. I see their point but I have a differnet persepctive on it as it is how my mind works and I see no inherent problem with it.
I figure that the mind is set up to perceive disctinctions between things and to try to stop the mind from doing what it does naturally is a bit problematic and troublesome. The problem only comes, in my mind, when we assign value and meaning to the differences.
For instance, walk into a yoga class and try not to notice if you are smaller or bigger than the person next to you. Try not to notice if you are sitffer or more flexible than the peple around you. Chances are you are going to notice those things. I never tell people in my classes not to compare themselves to the people around them. I mean, really- good luck with that. It is like telling someone to “sit in a corner and don’t think about pink elephants.” Chances are, pink elephants are the only thing that person is going to be able to think about. I do suggest to people that bigger, smaller, stiffer, bendier, etc. has no additional meaning beyond what they notice and those differences do not mean anything about one’s value, worth or inner self of Being. So I think we can and should intervene on the “meaning making” that so often comes along with comparisons, whether it is puffing us up into superiority or tearing us down into inferiority.
And once we are in the world of learning from life about what is good for us and what is harmful for us in terms of personal behavior, activities, people and who we want to learn from and so forth, I think some value judgements and some meaning-making is quite useful and necessary because judgement and comparions is part of discernment. In fact, once we shed LIGHT on a subject, the whole thing is that it helps us to see one thing clearly from another; it helps us to be discerning. For instance, I think we can and should be comparing how we feel after a good night’s sleep to how we feel after staying up late and fueling our lives with caffeine, sugar and or nicotine. We can and should be noticing and comparing how wholesome food makes our body feel as opposed to processed food. I think we can and should be noticing whose company elevates us and challenges us to grow appropriately and whose company subtly or not-so-subtly undermines our confidence and self-esteem. All of that learning falls under the category of comparion, judgement and meaning-making. Try to cut judgement entirely out of life and we cut ourselves off from our instincts, our gut feelings and a huge amount of the information our lives have for us about how to take care of ourseves and nurture our own growth.
I see this well-intended “non judging” dynamic with yogis a lot who in all sincerity and with loving intentions, do not want to “be judgemental” and so they ignore inner signals in their relationships with others that on the surface seem negative or comparing and yet are in fact, whispers of inner wisdom. (Of course, if always seeing the worst in people is all you can do, do some work on that as that is not a happy way to live either. But I digress.)
At any rate- we were able to have some very enlightening, interesting and adult discussions that involved comparing methods, styles, approaches and ideals while owning our personal opinions, experiences and preferences. So fun. So mature.
I am happy to be headed home and looking forward to a full week ahead. More soon!
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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."