It was fun to remember back to all the different phases my teaching has gone through since I moved here. I got to revisit the classes and Immersions at Yoga Yoga, Breath and Body, Castle Hill and all my trips to abroad and across the country. So wow.
One thing in particular that stands out to me is how much I wrote about "how we do it in Anusara Yoga" and how many entries I wrote unpacking so much of the sometimes elusive teaching methods that went along with that style of teaching and practice. And while my experiences and training in Anusara still inform much of what I do, I don't write about that any more. I don't have that "thing" to explain to people any more and that absence has created a marked shift in both what I write about and how I write. Kinda wild that such a big change happened in my writing and I wasn't even aware of it. More on that at some point, I am sure.
The process of re-writing and editing has had a bunch of my creative energy and so I haven't settled down to write a new blog entry, although there are some thoughts percolating around that will surely make it from my personal journal to the blog in the next few weeks. I did, however, run across a lovely little letter I wrote about personal practice. I wrote this several years ago, but my guess it remains relevant for many.
Enjoy! (Oh and the flowers are from my garden, which has been quite delightful this spring.)
I am a yoga teacher living in South America and I read your blog religiously. You give me lots of inspiration to keep going even though I am a one woman kula down here! I am so tired today from teaching 5 straight privates beginning at 6am that I am neglecting my personal practice - for the 5th day in a row! I normally do practice (always at home alone due to scheduling and the lack of local teachers I am motivated to practice with) but I am really in a slump!
I teach between 22-26 classes a week - all privates except for 4 group classes (it is harder to make a buck down here!) and I am having a hard time keeping up my personal practice. It often gets shortened, softened, neglected in some way... I am not proud of this and I more than understand the importance of keeping up my practice! I am just not sure how to do this in a practical way. I go to study with my teacher two weeks a year, but other than that I am really on my own here in and I am working A LOT! DO you have any advice for me on how to keep motivated and inspired? How to find energy for a decent practice after giving energy to teach 5 or 6 classes a day? I would love your thoughts on this. Thank you!
My public answer to a private question:
"First and foremost it sounds like you are being quite hard on yourself and no matter what practical approach you take to solving your personal practice dilemma, being nice to yourself about the realities of your situation is going to help you tremendously. Really, with that kind of teaching schedule, it is admirable that you want to practice at all. Many people who have jobs other than teaching yoga sometimes look longingly at the full-time yoga teacher and fantasize that somehow their practice, training, etc. would be easier if they didn't have to work at a job that required them to apply for time off, show up at an office, etc.
But the thing is, there is no easy way to manage it all. Sure, those of us who work for ourselves can take time off any time we want but we do not get paid for time off! In the land of the self-employed, there is no such thing as paid vacation. Most people I know who do this for a living work very hard. And work a lot. It sounds to me like you are doing just that.
"Years ago, when I first started teaching yoga, my husband and I owned a coffee shop. We worked 75-100 hours a week each and I taught four yoga classes at a small studio next door to our cafe. It actually cost me money to teach those classes. By the time I paid someone to work for me at the cafe and taught the classes for $20, I pretty much lost money the whole first year of my teaching. And by the time you figure in the cost of training, I certainly lost money for the first five years! On top of that, I had very little time or energy to practice myself. After so much time on my feet and working in the cafe, my practice at that time pretty much looked like viparita karani (legs up the wall), supta baddha konasana (reclined bound angle) and on a really good day, some inversions. I really ran a number on myself about what "a loser yoga teacher I was because I didn't practice a lot or very hard and what kind of integrity did I really think I have to be teaching and not practicing more" and so on.
"So, I was lamenting my very sad story to my sister one day and I had pretty much decided that I would stop teaching yoga because of all of these factors and she said, "You know, your situation is not going to be like this forever. Sure, it's not ideal, but when your schedule clears a bit, and it will, if you have quit now you will have nothing to return to when your time finally gets freed up a bit." She was right. It did not last forever and when things settled and I surfaced a bit, I still had a practice and I still had the classes. So, at no point did I just say, "this is ideal" but I did make my peace with "this is what I can actually do" and I could let go of the self-criticism that was generated by a long list of "should's" relative to practice.
"A practical suggestion is make a list of the should's you have regarding your practice and see how many of them are actually realistic for your situation and then let as many go as you can. And when "the should's" rear their head and try to undermine your peace of mind, tell them "Thanks for sharing, but I have more important things to do right now than listen to you..."
"My personal belief is that we must know- in a very clear and precise way- the patterns of our thinking and how they will attempt to sabotage us and our self-worth and our joy. And when we know this, we gain some mastery over the patterns rather than they simply being the master of us. This is how we avoid the very dangerous spiral of yoga that I like to refer to as "The Downward Spiral." I personally do not ever expect the patterns' voices to go away. I really don't. Although sometimes they do. Nor do I find it that helpful to fight them as they are wily, smart and long-enduring. I think of them like a muscle. When the pattern is strong it is like a muscle in spasm. It has all of our attention. But when it is not activated, not fed, put in its place, so to speak, it is just a muscle like any other muscle. I mean really, do you think much about your triceps muscle when it is not sore?
"The other part of the equation is intention. I do believe that when we hold a very strong intention about something- like, for instance- "I really want to practice more and find ways to inspire my practice beyond where it is now"- then the universe moves in sometimes radical ways to help us align with such an intention. Sometimes, it moves to reveals to us the obstacles that we have in our way regarding time management, money and energy in all forms. As this becomes more clear, it can be shocking to realize that we might be in our own way more than we thought.
"For instance, in the yoga traditions, Ganesh is said to be the deity we ask for help to remove our obstacles. He is the force that does just that. Truly. But it is often in ways we do not think of as easy or gentle. Like the whole "pray for patience and you will get caught in a traffic jam" scenario. He puts us in the very circumstances that will demand that we learn directly the thing that we asked him to help us with. He doesn't just wave a magic wand and give us patience, is my point. If we hold an intention about something and ask for help that the obstacles to realizing that intention be removed, we are going to go through some purification relative to that intention. Be sure of it. And be nice to yourself as its happening because it is a High Opportunity.
"And, I could certainly give the lecture about "why we must practice as yoga teachers" because I really do think that. But I will just avoid that all together. Most any yoga teacher who is not practicing is not lacking the knowledge of why it is important. So the fact that a yoga teacher is not practicing is something else, not a lack of education about practice's merits and its profound source of inspiration for teaching. There is some other mechanism at work that is compromising the teacher from realizing that ideal. Each one of us must find out what that is for us and find a way through it that works for us. And we are all different- personality, body types, schedules, families, jobs, etc. What works for me may not work for you and vice versa.
"But the cool thing is that THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO PRACTICE YOGA EFFECTIVELY so the differences are not a problem at all. They are just opportunities to express oneself creatively and in response to one's needs. And what works today might not work next month and so we are asked to be fluid with it. To live in a flow of uncertainty yet remain committed and steadfast. If we truly attend to the ebb and flow of our lives and stop holding this week's practice to last year's list of expectations we might not feel as burdened and that alone is a more inspired state.
"I hope this helps. I could go on and on but this is long enough. "
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."