photo by Mike Frosolono, circa 1976
I recently joked that I should write a memoir called, My Life in Leotards, referring to the fact that I started teaching fitness in 1988, asana in 1998, and have spent over thirty years in front of a room instructing people in some kind of movement, I have been wearing leotards since, well, they were called leotards. Many of you know them as leggings or simply “clothes” but many of us remember days well before the current athletic-inspired fashion craze where yoga pants outsell jeans, including that super-awkward phases in the 80’s during which we wore thongs on the outside of tights. But I digress.
I could also write a memoir of My Life in a Body. Oh wait— I did write that one. Three times! (All great books, by the way, and, if you haven’t read them yet, I suggest skipping the first two and starting with the latest, A Deeper Yoga. I think it is the best.)
Whether it was dance class as a five-year old, gymnastics from six through thirteen years, cheerleading through much of high school, aerobics, spinning, or asana, the truth is, I have been in a leotard A LOT, exploring the ways that movement effects well-being, exacerbates obsession, creates comparison and dissatisfaction, fosters empowerment, creates injury, nurtures resilience, aids in self-acceptance, includes and excludes, fosters community, and so on. If I were to write the memoir I would assert that there is not any one movement discipline that has the corner on healing or positive physical and psychological outcomes.
I was thinking today about a woman who came to my fitness class at the YMCA many years ago. She started in the most moderate class I was teaching as part of her New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Over the year, she lost weight, left her marriage, became a fitness instructor herself and her entire affect and personality expression brightened. I saw her many years later, after I had left the YMCA and had started teaching yoga. She was still teaching fitness, had maintained a healthy weight she felt good about, (By healthy I mean she seemed vibrant, with some curves still intact, she liked how she looked, and felt empowered by the fact she had maintained her goal weight, etc.. “Healthy weight” is a bit of a triggering idea and, for the record, I believe health is a multi-faceted, personal thing that can exist at many different weights, sizes, and shapes. )
I was thinking of her as an example of how a seemingly physical resolution cascaded into a series of positive outcomes that were emotional, social, relational, professional, and dare I say, spiritual. I think this is one reason why I lost interest in the discussion of who is doing real yoga out there and find myself much happier keeping my eyes on my own yoga. Having spent my life in leotards, the outcomes I might attribute to yoga— and to my own particular path within the vast world of asana that has centered largely on the alignment studies-- someone else has found in a different asana style, a different movement modality or through a different discipline altogether. These positive outcomes are consistently more interesting to me than the judging the means through which they were achieved.
And, the not-so-positive outcomes must be acknowledged as well. Anyone who has spent any time in my classrooms has heard me say that every asana style has people with healing stories and every asana styles has people with injury stories. Injury, like health, is a multi-faceted process that is never physical-only, even if we are talking about torn hamstrings. And, unless you have been living under a rock these last few years, you know that Yoga-land’s injuries are clearly not limited to torn hammies. Not at all.
So, when I say, “eyes on my own yoga” I do not mean that I turn away from what is painful to see. I am not talking about ignoring abuse, failing to make clear distinctions, or avoiding exploring how even seemingly good ideas can unfold within the life of a community into situations that are toxic. That work needs to be done with committed vigilance.
What I mean is that I focus my gaze on where my practice is taking me more than I look at what the folks down the way are up to. I am talking about the every-day level of what feels to me like a form of yoga tribalism that has the superior tone of my-yoga-is-better-than-your-yoga and look-at-what-those-other-people-are-doing-wrong mixed into it. My personal opinion is that if I can’t work to stop othering in yoga, well, I am going to have a hard time stopping othering at the borders, in my communities, houses of worship, politics and so on.
Once again, how I engage practice is what practice yields more than the practice itself. Running with loving attention is probably more loving than yoga with strain, stress, and judgement. Like I said earlier, no one discipline has the corner on positive outcomes. And, of course, this work is a practice and a process.
So, that’s what I have today other than another shameless plug about my upcoming online Teacher Training course. I am excited about the course because it brings together over 20 years of yoga teaching experience into one comprehensive program. I based this program on the questions I am most often asked in teacher trainings such as “How would you cue that?” and “Why do we do it that way?” and “How would you teach that to a new person?” and so much more. This is a course designed to help you know the HOW of teaching and the WHY behind common cues.
At its heart, this course is an invitation to move beyond dogma, rigidity, and what has always been done into a field of understanding that embraces paradox, invites inquiry, and celebrates difference within unity. It is going to be great.
photo by Andrea Killam
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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."