"We all want to belong, to feel that we are part of something greater than our individual selves." -Gabrielle Roth, Paths to Ecstasy
“Belonging: Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” ― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
I spent the last few days in re-entry mode following a 6-day workshop with Patricia Walden in Durango, Colorado. Patricia Walden is one of my favorite yoga teachers and the retreat was pretty fantastic. Patricia taught strong asana classes every morning and led sutra study, inversions and pranayama sessions in the afternoon. There were people of all ages and capacities in attendance and while it was a workshop for "Iyengar yoga practitioners" only, I was welcomed and accepted with great hospitality and kindness by the folks who were there.
As many of you know, I have done Iyengar yoga since 1991 when I got started in yoga but at the same time I am not an "Iyengar yoga practitioner". Or at least I am not only an Iyengar yoga practitioner. Much in the same way, I have learned a lot in Bikram yoga and I do not define myself that way. And even for all those years I was a certified Anusara yoga teacher, I never felt like I was an "Anusara Yogi." I taught more than a few workshops as an Anusara teacher that resulted in folks calling the home office reporting that "Christina Sell is really more like an Iyengar yoga teacher". However, if an Iyengar yoga teacher came to my workshop they certainly would not have claimed me as one of their own, as I didn't fall inside their boundaries either.
At any rate, the discussion of styles, trademarks, traditions and lineages is a bit tiring to me when it comes to asana and teaching and yet, I am respectful of the issues at hand when passing down a legacy of inspiration and preserving the depth and breadth of a certain approach. And Patricia, a senior teacher in her system, is passionate about the practice and dedicated in her discipleship to BKS Iyengar. I respect her perspective and she offers a profound transmission because she is steeped in one tradition for so long. As much as someone like me might offer something of value through synthesis, she offers something else through singularity.
At the end of the workshop I thanked Patricia for letting me into the workshop and allowing me to be part of it even though I wasn't strictly an Iyengar yoga practitioner. I told her, "You know, I am a bit of an orphan these days so I am very grateful to have a place to study and learn and get help."
And while saying those words out loud brought tears to my eyes, the tears were a mixture of gratitude and grief. Having the opportunity to learn from someone as experienced and masterful as Patricia is something I am very grateful for. I am always happy to be a student of a great teacher. So certainly, that is the gratitude part. And sometimes I miss my former days of "belonging to a system", having a primary teacher to learn from, and a defined community of which to be a part. So that was the grief aspect.
And yet, the gratitude I feel goes deeper than being a student of a great teacher. These days I feel more myself and more able to participate in yoga as my authentic self than I ever have in all my years of practice and study. Perhaps this new freedom is due to some great psychotherapy or maybe I am simply growing older, wiser and less willing to perform as a false self for a group's or a teacher's acceptance. It seems to me that being an "yoga orphan" has been an instrumental part of this new freedom I feel in my practice, studentship and teaching work. No longer bound to the obvious and/or hidden rules of participation, I am finding new ways of relating to the subject of yoga, my own practice, how I want to teach and how I want to participate in community with others. So, when I feel the grief come, I think the gentle tears are the price I am paying for something much deeper than belonging to a group. These moments of grief might simply be the price I pay for belonging to myself. And of course, to God.
More could be said on this for sure. And I am certainly not without Great Company on the path these days. In fact, the people in my life are pretty awesome and in most cases the depth of rapport I have with people now is deeper than it was previously because the current bonds are forged through greater degrees of self-honesty, introspection and clarity of intention than "belonging to the same group."
For years I have considered what it means to "belong to something greater than myself" and I have considered what the longing to belong to something greater than ourselves is all about. Just recently, it hit me square between the eyes that this "something greater" to which I long to belong is not an organization, a method or a group (although perhaps it might take that form at times) but the something greater really is the Self. Me. God. The Big It. The Real Deal. The Whole Enchilada. (okay, you get my point.)
You see, I long, not simply for a defined system of yoga that gives me a good elevator speech about "what kind of yoga I teach" and promises me a one-size-fits-all-new-paradigm-alignment-that-will-always-work-all-the-time-for-every-body but for a practice that reminds me who I most truly am and demands as much of me as it gives back to me. I long, not for a set of conventions, standards, rules and regulations that are as limiting as societies narrow definitions of reality, humanity, success and meaning, but for the ability to see those standards for what they are and for the freedom to chose the ways I will participate consciously as an adult. I long, not just for polite conversation that lives on the surface of experience but for thought-provoking, revealing, and intense moments of connection with people able and willing to be honest in their personal struggles to live in allegiance with their own "Something Greater", even when their vision of something greater may be different than mine. Yes, I long to be part of something greater but in truth, the Something Greater for which I long can not be trademarked, certified, described in an elevator speech, represented with a logo, put on a T-shirt, crafted with a brand or even be given a price tag. Nor can it come with another person's name on it and be limited to their methods, ways and means alone. Something Greater is not a corporate thing. Something Greater exists in the paradox between uniquely mine and not mine at all; of just for me and for the benefit of us all.
And so on.
Like I said, the workshop was fantastic, Patricia was awesome, the people were very nice. I got lots of asana insight as well and some great tricks to pass along in the next cycle of workshops and courses. So stay tuned for all of that.
Kelly came with me to Durango which was fun. We got to see some of our long-time friends who set us up on some super-fun mountain bike rides in the high country outside of Durango and provided some heroic shuttling per mountain passes and some great conversation about old times and new. Kelly biked every day. I went biking twice as the yoga was fairly consuming and biking does a lot for my heart, my mind and my persecutive but not so much for making asana feel fluid or even enjoyable!
We got home to our Colorado cabin on Friday and settled in. I spent the weekend catching up on emails and getting course materials ready for the Summer Session of Asana Junkies, (SIGN UP NOW IT IS GOING TO BE GREAT!) taking a few bike rides and so on. Also, me and Gioconda are hard at work crafting a great Advanced Teacher Training program and we have an online open house on Sunday August 10th and 6:30 CST so you can log on and meet us, ask questions and see if the program might be right for you.
All right, the commercial break is over. Have a good day.
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called truth.”
- Dan Rather
Last weekend was the full moon in July. Last weekend was also the 10th weekend in the 300-hour Advanced Teacher Training that Gioconda Parker and I have been teaching this year. So, this means that Teacher Training coincided with a lovely Indian holiday or "holy-day" known as Guru Purnima. My understanding of this holiday is that Guru Purnima is a time when we honor our teachers. And while honoring our teachers may be a religious thing as in the case of our spiritual teachers, Guru Purnima celebrations are not limited to spiritual teachers and traditionally include opportunities to honor all of the different teachers who have guided and instructed us- from our parents to academic mentors to our spiritual inspirations and so on.
Since I have a love of learning and of teaching, I consider the teacher-student relationship a lot. Seems to me that some teachers come our way and teach us through the nectar of acceptance, love, patience and acknowledgement. Some teachers offer us clear examples of who we do not want to be, providing a photographic negative-type set of of instructions in their personal conduct, their interpersonal relationships and/or their classroom comportment. More often than not, in my case, the most influential teachers are those teachers who have given me both fire and nectar. Sometimes the fire is the fire of confrontation, of clarity-demanding feedback and other times the fire is simply dealing with the paradox of how genius often manifests right along idiosyncratic behavior, personality differences, deception, failed expectations and broken promises.
I am very clear that I am not an Indian, a Hindu and these days I am not even sure if I am a yogi. (Although these days I am not sure if I even want to be a "yogi" as the word "yoga" is so fraught with projections, both subtle and gross, as well as an ever-increasing and crazy-making host of expectations, standards and difficulties that make me want to claim to be a "student of consciousness" or a "disciple of the Heart" more than I want to claim the title "yogi", but I suppose that is another story for another day. Then again, maybe it is all the same story. At any rate, I digress. My small rant is over for now.)
So, although I am not Indian, Hindu, and the word yogi is up for debate, I do love learning and practicing aspects of the Indian tradition that enliven my life with meaning, connection and open a doorway to places of devotional resonance within me. And reflecting on teachers during the traditional time of Guru Purnima is very meaningful for me personally. Every year at Lee's ashram we have a Guru Purnima celebration with talks, pujas, feasting and guru sega (service) opportunities and so I took this weekend in the training to talk about the guru principle a bit and to perform a fire ceremony ritual with the group to purify, release and invoke the qualities of teachers we want to be and to offer our gratitude for the assistance we have been given- both in the positive and the negative.
Not surprisingly, after reflections on the teacher, lots of mantras and offering of all kinds to the fire, I left the weekend very grateful for my students and inspired by the ways they are growing and humbled by the ways they have helped me grow. Certainly, I have had students who have been like fire and many more than that who have given me the nectar of their grace. I also know that a student's progress in my company is not always easy as I am one of those fire-and-nectar kind of people/teachers myself. As time marches on and some students return again and again to my classes, some leave and others join, the range and depth of our work together feels like a very strong and profound bond.
When I lose track of this bond as the reason for teaching yoga, my work doesn’t feel the same. Something inside of me dries up. I am happiest as a teacher when I remember that teaching yoga is not about me as the teacher or about my career as a yoga teacher. Teaching yoga is about helping my students learn and grow in their practice. Teaching yoga is a chance to be in service to other people through the tools that yoga offers. And while I think we can and should be paid well, treated fairly, understand our place in a competitive marketplace, learn how to represent that well, and run our businesses successfully, etc. the juice of the endeavor lies not in what yoga can do for me as a teacher but in how yoga can help me help people live another day with a little more freedom, a little less constriction, a little more hope, knowledge, insight and awareness. And, as so often is the case when we are talking yoga, paradox arrives once again at my doorstep with the recognition that being in service to the process of yoga in others does so very much for me.
So all that being said, it was a great weekend and just the shot of inspiration I needed. Feeling quite lucky indeed.
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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."