At the end of a recent interview, the interviewer said, referring to me, that “asana was my thing, my jam…” I replied, “Well, we should be clear that asana is what I am known for. And I have some experience and expertise as a teacher. But asana is not my primary life interest.”
Truth be told, there are plenty of people WAY more interested in postural practice and the mechanisms of bio-mechanical functionality than I am.
Don’t get me wrong— I find the body fascinating. I enjoy movement. I have been blessed to reside in the kind of body/mind for whom exercise and physical activity is largely enjoyable. So sure, I am into it. But mostly, my deep dive into asana was about having an exercise practice that was resonant with my spiritual interests at a time in my life when ordinary exercise modalities triggered dangerous eating-disordered thoughts and behaviors. (Want more of that story? Read my three books. And if you only have time for one, get my latest book. It is the best.)
Asana has never stood alone as the primary practice in my life. My asana studies have always been unfolding in the context of a larger spiritual life with a set of tools that include, and extend beyond, life on a sticky mat.
I have always been a seeker. I was brought up in the Methodist church, daughter of two committed Christians, and while my spiritual education has taken me to ashrams, temples, teachings and communities outside of the Christian faith, there is never going to be a meaningful life for me that doesn’t involve the exploration of my humanity through spiritual precepts, practices and in the company of others who do the same. And my love and respect for the Christian faith endures. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus and what I understand to be his teaching of Love, Forgiveness, Redemption and a unified Spiritual Heart.
More could certainly be said about all of that.
At any rate, for me, asana has never been a separate thing from yoga philosophy, spirituality, and self-inquiry. And while asana has been a lovely, supportive exercise practice for me for many years, the postural practice has always existed within a larger scope of study and my spiritual life has always extended to communities beyond the yoga studio. I would have to ask my astrologer to be sure, but something must have been going on in 1998/1999 because right around that time I started teaching asana, I met my guru, Lee Lozowick and I met Desiree Rumbaugh who introduced me to John Friend, the founder of Anusara yoga. And while I loved the alignment principles of the Anusara yoga system and my asana practice blossomed during this time, I was primarily attracted to the fundamental premise and promise that “when a true seeker steps into a greater flow, Grace descends, carries them and reveals their capacity and worthiness to live in that greater flow.”
So, while I am no longer a card-carrying, licensed Anusara yoga teacher, nor do I use that term to describe my teaching work, I am still committed to the first principle of that system of yoga which, when I learned it, was Open to Grace. (I have since been told that the first principles is now Open to Something Bigger, but the machinations of all those shifts are outside the scope of my interest.)
I do not think every asana class needs to be some big sermon about Supreme Consciousness or a big song and dance of mystically-inspired theatre. I lean heavily on biomechanics in my work and spend a lot of time on the postures themselves— how to do them, how to modify them, how to progress toward them, how to back out of them, and so on. And while I have no interest in converting, convincing, or coercing anyone into philosophical teachings or religious orientations they do not feel, I find that asana makes the most sense and is the most satisfying to me when it is referenced in a larger process of awakening.
I have taught my share of atheists, agnostics, and people of faith traditions and belief systems much different than my own. I am sure some people never came back to my class because of the spiritual teachings I have shared. I know for a fact than many of my students have nodded and been polite (and even a bit impatient) with the “spiritual stuff” and just waited for the sermon to end so we could get to the asana. (I say I know this for a fact because many of my students have told me exactly that over the years.)
I have no idea what other teachers should do. I personally like a straight-physical class. I do not mind being responsible for my own spirituality when I go to class. I also love a good sermon, an insightful dharma talk and/or a moving testimony. (Please note, I said “good” sermon and “insightful” dharma and “moving” testimony, which is highly relative and hard to agree on, but that is another entry for another day.)
My point is, I am not suggesting that I have some fixed idea of what anyone else should do. I believe many expressions can be quite wonderful and efficacious.
New and seasoned teachers often ask me about whether or not they should present yoga philosophy in their classes. No one wants to alienate their students. No one wants anyone to experience undue discomfort. And the pain, betrayal and upset related to spirituality and religion seems to know no bounds in this day and age. Like I said, I do not know what other teachers should do. However, I have found that the more I make room for the Christians to be Christians in class, the Mormons to share their faith (yes, I know they are Christians), the Buddhists to be themselves, the atheists to be atheists, the agnostics to be who they are, and the Jewish tradition to be alive in the space and so on, then the people who come to my class get to be who they are and so do I.
The way I see it, it is not only that Grace descends and carries us. Grace arises in our midst when we gather with shared respect and with enough courage to testify to those things that give us strength and hope. When it goes well, Grace arises as us, in and through us and we carry each other.
I wouldn’t want it any other way.
PS- Interested in listening the interview I mention in the opening paragraph? Here it is.
Follow This Blog
"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."