Well, I was going to write "The weekend workshop with Sianna was even better than I expected it would be" as an update status on Facebook and then I thought that statement might need some explaining. As fun as it is to share the major and minor moments of our lives in pithy statements via social media forums, sometimes those pithy statements lack context to such a degree that great misunderstandings arise and even long threads unfold before our eyes that make it obvious how a statement with no backstory can create discord and conflict, even among conscious and conscientious people. This blog, however, is not a blog about social media and its shortcomings but since it is my blog I don't need to be pithy--I can be as long-winded as I want to be!
Sianna and I have talked for over 4 years about collaborating on a workshop together. We planned more than one event and changed plans for various reasons over the years and put this workshop on the books shortly after Sianna resigned her license with Anusara yoga. Both of us have been busy throughout the year and before we knew it, the weekend had come. So I was expecting to have a good time and to enjoy working with Sianna AND it was even better than I expected.
We had a small group of folks with a mix of local students and students who travelled in from across the country. We had students who I knew very well and who have spent hundreds of hours in the classroom with me. We had students who Sianna had met over the years in trainings and festivals. I had several students I mostly know from my online programs. And we had students brand-new to both of us, and even brand-new to weekend workshops.. So even in a small workshop, there was a great diversity among the group.
We worked with some potent themes throughout the weekend as is always the case when we dive into the mythological realms of stories and symbols. We moved through stories about Ganesh, Hanuman, Durga and Kali. For me the work was rich and meaningful and I thoroughly enjoyed stepping into the current of the poet and mystic and a bit out of the analysis of the engineer and scientist.
For those of you who have studied with me over the years you recognize this reference, quite readily. For other folks the basic gist is that we have 4 types of students in any given yoga class:
1. The athlete and dancer who like to move and/or sweat,
2. The engineers and scientists who like to analyze and understand,
3. The psychologists who like to feel the yoga on a personal level,
4. The poets and mystics who like to experience the yoga on the transpersonal or Universal level.
Obviously-- at least I hope it is obvious- this is a crude generalization and over simplification of the complexity of who we are as individuals and the unique blend of the four aspects that most people are when they roll out a mat. However, many people have a primary and secondary entry point into the asana practice that can be categorized -again, in a general way with no insult intended - with this model. For instance, while I am very much a poet and mystic at heart and live in a near-constant inquiry into devotion as a person and put in a fair amount of time in therapy and psychological housekeeping, as an asana practitioner, I am an engineer- athlete. I like to figure poses out, see their relationships to each other and enjoy learning the biomechanics that inform them. I love to learn new ways to think about poses, to gain new insight into sequencing and better clarity in my execution. That is the domain of the scientist.
As an athlete, I like to do the postures, I love to move, to breathe, to sweat, to improve my prowess and the physicality of the endeavor is a source of great enjoyment for me. So when I go to class I want a really good lesson or I want a really strong practice and if I get both I am in ecstasy. I generally look for my spiritual teachings and psychological needs to be met elsewhere. That is me. Each of us is different in this regard and that is as it should be. Yoga, from what I have learned, has never been a one-sized fits all kind of path but has always understood that different people can enter the stream through different channels, find the current that suits them best and follow that current to the Great Ocean where all the tributaries eventually join.
So- anyone who knows Sianna knows she comes quite naturally through the door of the poet and mystic and while her athleticism is strong, her intellect is keen and her psychological understanding is astute, hers is a poetic, mystical and mythological world-view and teaching style.
I enjoyed being in those waters so very much this weekend in the asana practice. In the last few months I have written about how much I have shifted in my relationship to the Anusara methodology in terms of biomechanics and so forth. That has been awesome. And I must say that this weekend I felt an integration with the value of thematic-inspired movement. (I know, I know-- it was bound to happen.)
I would never say "I think yoga should always be taught with a theme" because that would be overstating it considerably. AND I think we need times when we face the raw, naked experience of asana without an added story, a mythic legend or an interpretive overlay. As useful as those things can be, I think they pose problems and have a somewhat large and looming shadow element that will eventually come calling and with which we we will need to deal at some point. So much of my understanding of practice is that it can teach us how to learn to live in the raw, naked state of responsive vulnerability to the moment AS IT IS and so too much story telling on top of asana and pranayama can actually become a yoga fantasy and not a yoga reality. So, I see some big downsides.
However, I was reminded this weekend of some very good upsides to placing our movement in a context of a larger story because the mythic domain of the Larger Story is also a valid and real dimension of WHAT IS AS IT IS. When Lee passed we had a massive Mahasamadhi celebration on the ashram and one of his good friends and colleagues who is a Buddhist Rinpoche came and gave a talk to our sangha. (Yes, gurus have friends who are gurus and they have a collegial relationships with one another...neat, right? Anyway...) At one point in the talk he talked about anjali mudra. He was a teacher in a Tibetan tradition and called the mudra something else but his point was that when we place our hands in that position in front of our heart it is the literal joining of the masculine and feminine together. He went on and on about how when we assume that posture of prayer it is a joining at the deepest level of who we are and that joining is literal, not metaphoric. From his standpoint, training and realization, that gesture was not a symbol, was not imaginary, but was the actual reconciliation of the deepest currents within the practitioner. So posture's embodied symbolism is literal in the mythic domain and the story we might tell as we practice the posture might not be an overlay at all but a statement of the truth of that aspect or domain of reality.
Okay, so before we get too far afield, I must remind us all that most trouble comes our way on the path when we forget which context we are in when we are saying or hearing certain teachings and when we lose sight of which context the teaching was given from. In the imaginal realm, for instance, everything is real at the level of imagination. In the physical realm everything is real at the level of matter. At the psychic level, impressions and insights are real for what they are there and so on. Much like a pithy Facebook status update, so many yogic teachings are given from one context with an assumed backstory and read by someone else from a different context with no explanation and then the gems of wisdom are misinterpreted, misapplied and just like on Facebook, cause great misunderstandings and strife for all involved as well as just a lot of time consuming "sharing of opinions" which often boils down to different truths of different perspectives battling it out. (Oh right, this is not a social media commentary...I have digressed again.)
One of the symbols that Sianna and I referenced a lot in our personal talks over meals and driving to venues and so forth was the phoenix- that mythological creature who rises us from the ashes of its former self to soar into new Possibility. I think for me that in the same way that I felt a rebirth recently around what I think of as General Principles of Alignment, this weekend I felt a rebirth and renewal around the conscious use of metaphor and the skillfully applied and embodied philosophical cues.
To me this rebirth and renewal is the threshold work of transformation. As we move forward on the Path of Love there will be an continual re-working and re-orientation to the past required in order to stay in the game of moving forward. We will be negotiating between what stays in the past and what from the past can be harvested, perhaps planted and even enjoyed again in the future. Sometimes all we can harvest from the past is the manure from a terrible experience and if we are lucky the manure of the past atrocities can fertilize new growth, new insight, new endeavors and even inform new decisions. If we are not careful, the manure simply well- stays in the backyard smelling bad and in various ways continues to pollute the future. So there is that.
However, many times in the compost pile of those things we have thrown out, deemed no-longer-useful, disgusting or even shameful, we find seeds and surprises that are worth carrying forward. That is the place where the new wings form on the burned bird, where the phoenix becomes strong enough to rise from the ashes, where the threshold of new possibility is crossed and the Path of Love gains momentum within us.
So, like that- The weekend workshop with Sianna was even better than I expected it would be."
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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."