Signal-to-noise ratio is defined as the ratio of the power of the signal— or meaningful information— and the power of the background noise— or unwanted signal.
Seems to me there is more noise than ever when it comes to teaching and practicing yoga these days. Students and teachers alike are inundated by Instagram challenges, email blasts, Facebook threads, yelp reviews, Groupons and endless blogs about what is right and wrong about every aspect of modern postural yoga from the heated rooms and the sex-crazed gurus to the postures themselves and more. Marketing seminars tell us how important it is to brand ourselves well and to get our message out there and clearly without social media we will all be left behind with no one to teach or practice with.
It seems to me that part of the noise is that much of the formal and informal marketing efforts within our industry trigger a deep fear of loss or FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as it is sometimes called. When I worked in sales we were trained to use “fear of loss” as a technique to close a sale. Simply convince the customer that if they didn’t buy your product NOW they would miss out on something— supply might run out, they might not be as skinny, popular, successful, loved without this thing and would therefore miss out on a happy life all because they failed to act NOW and purchase said product for sale. Of course, any student of psychology knows that this fear of loss sits right on top of our deepest wounds of not being enough and therefore, not having enough. So a simple knock on the door of not enough with a carefully crafted “fear of loss” pitch and, well, people buy.
In yoga the iterations on the fear of loss themes seem to run the gamut from “If I don’t learn that new paradigm of alignment I might not spring into the future with all the momentum of my true potential ” or “If I can’t balance in handstand I might not ever be able to fill my classes” or “If I am not thin like the models on the magazine covers I won’t get the respect I deserve” and so on and so on. It probably varies a bit person to person, but the actual content of the noise is not as important as understanding the dynamic and how it affects us personally.
(And so we are clear— I am not anti-Instagram. I am not anti-marketing. I am not anti-blogs. I am not anti-Facebook. I remain dedicated to the precept that my life in yoga is more about my relationship to things and activities than it is about the things or pursuits in and of themselves. A wise Aghora yogi once told me, “Christina, it is perfectly fine to have whiskey as long as you are having the whiskey and it is not the whiskey that is having you.” So consciousness in relationship is the primary tenet of my practice and it simply behooves me to refrain from those things that use me when, for various reasons, I am unable to use them in a profitable way. Here, of course, I mean profit for spiritual and personal growth, not financial profit. So I am fan of both participation and renunciation but I am a bigger fan of knowing why I do and do not do things and of knowing whether or not I am in choice about the matter, whatever it is.
So— I think yoga teachers should market themselves and I think being a good business person is great and I would love for all yogis to make great money and for our profession to be respectable, lucrative and just. I want to be clear on this in case anyone got defensive about Instagram challenges and such. Do them. Have at it. Knock yourself out. Enjoy. Use them if they help you break through the noise.)
And that is the point of the entry— a strong signal breaks through noise. And while it is tempting to keep going down a road about all the noise that is out there, I am more interested in considering what it is to have a strong signal. I am interested in what is required to hear my own Heart’s broadcast, what is required of me to hear another person’s True Signal and what is necessary to repsond more from signal and less from noise.
Within all the noise of the business and within all the noise of the marketing and within all the noise of the shared experience of yoga through various public channels, there is the practice. And I believe the practice is the doorway to signal.
I know it is for me.
I have always resisted stating exact reasons why I practice as though the process of practice was goal-oriented or achievement-based and could be summed up in an few words. I have lived more from the assumption that the life of practice is inherently valuable and the motivations for the life change as I change, grow, struggle, fail and recommit to new levels of knowing myself.
However, I suppose my reasons do go a little deeper than that. What makes the life of practice meaningful and valuable to me is that when I live close to my practice, I live closer to my own signal and less at the mercy of the noise. Noise has gotten me in big trouble more than once. Or, well, me believing in and acting on the voice of the noise has been the trouble, not the noise itself. So, when I am closer to my own signal and less distracted by noise, I am able to chose behaviors that serve me, I able to serve others more clearly and I generally feel more stable and happier. Living close to signal is key as proximity figures into the signal-to-noise ratio as well. If you get to far away from the signal that is being broadcasted, all you will hear is noise.
It is not just physical proximity, although that is key. To me proximity is intentional, attitudinal and attention-based. If I tend to my inner life well, I am living close to my signal and strengthening its power to transmit. Living close to signal is truly a winning formula. When I broadcast a strong signal it is easier for others to hear it, thus easier for my tribe to find me. And if they are running a strong signal, it is easier for me to find them as well.
And as much as I love community— and I love it and value it a lot— one aspect of practice that I love the most these days is that my practice is personal and none of anyone’s business. Don’t get me wrong, I am generally happy to share what I am learning and I love getting good help, but a very real way that my practice functions as a refuge from noise is that it is between me and God, not between me and the outer world.
For instance, meditation. There I am on my cushion in the morning, endeavoring to be with myself as I am and to be with what arises. It is me without Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, etc. as I explore how Just This As It Is is a doorway to the Something More that is embedded in the ordinary moments of my life. No status updates required. No noise. I mean, well, there can be noise but therein lies the practice: find the signal.
And writing. And there is me, alone, writing in my journal on topics no one will ever hear about. Some of the writing funnels into my teaching and some into my relationships and some into these blog entries and some into books and talks. And so my writing is not all private and unshared. And yet, the writing is a way to cut through the noise with words and with an inner dialogue with the wiser and also the very neurotic parts of me. Some days my journal entries sound shallow, trite and tinged with complaint. And other days I weep with the joy of finding myself in the raw honest practice of writing. I find my signal. I keep putting pen to paper.
And asana. There is me, alone, on my mat, moving breathing and charting the inner terrain of my being through the artistry of making shapes with my body. And as much as I love practicing in groups— and I love that a lot— what sustains me in practice is the time I spend alone on my mat. I generally wear a t-shirt and an old pair of Iyengar-style bloomers I have had for 15 years and I work through a sequence. There is no noise there about the music, the temperature of the room, the efficacy of the sequence, the accuracy of the teacher’s cues and no competition with other people because I am in charge of all of that. Just me. No noise. And so much of the noise of complaint in yoga these days about what we need and want as students and what the teacher is and isn’t doing well all fades away in personal practice.
I could go on and on about the various ways to strengthen our signal and our relaitonship with it. Truth is, there are lots of ways to do it. And there are also things I need to not do to stay strong in my own signal.
For instance, in the trainings I taught last week I asked the students to refrain from taking pictures and filming during our session so that we could harness and safeguard our intention and energy and create something for ourselves before turning something potentially sacred into more online content. I was honest with the group that it is great for business when people come and take pictures and shout it from the rooftops how great the training was and how awesome I am and how much they love my school. It is good for business. I am clear about that. But I do not think it is good for the inner life to do that all the time. Sometimes, fine. It has a purpose. Nothing is all-good or all-bad. It is not a rigid thing for me. But since the scales have tipped to constant sharing, I think practitioners and teachers need a time and a place to develop a strong connection to signal before broadcasting and sharing it lest our own experiences become just one more thing added to the noise.
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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."