mn yoga

Craft

I often think of this practice as a call.  Or, more rightly, as something that calls.  More right still: this is the state of feeling something is there, calling to us.  We feel it, and hear in our deepest recesses.  Everyone has some version of this.  Everyone wants, in some way, to be better.  When we stop to feel our breath before we move, or open our voices in sound, or open our ears to the sound of the bell, we are listening for the call.  Of course, sometimes, what we feel when we most deeply listen isn't a clarion bell or a lightening bolt or a wash of serenity.  Sometimes we feel doubt, or pain.  Sometimes, all that comes back is silence. It's so hard to know what to do with silence.

Yoga is an art.  A science of experience.  The last time trainees gathered, I had them write for ten minutes in silence: what is the experience of yoga and meditation, like?  Then, I had them write across the bottom, hopefully in bold, heavy handed, graffiti text: How do you teach, that?  A few sneered.  One laughed out loud.  One looked at me like I'd just taken her toys away.

I think the experience is a kind of nakedness, a sudden sincerity.

We mistake posing for sincerity.  This gets worse, when we think of 'teaching' or 'advancing' or 'going further': Posing becomes outright contortion.  It becomes a game of props, plots, plays.  We begin to suffer an intolerable sense of faking it, the misery of being an imposter.

This is a human ailment.  It's an outright cancer amongst yoga teachers.

Somewhere we've developed the misconception that teaching involves demonstrating a skill we've learned or expressing knowledge we've gained.  As though wisdom or experience or accomplishment is so packed under our skin it leaks when we open our mouths.  An enlightened, drool.

And we've somehow taken on the misconception that yoga practice is yoga, class.

And so we cram: we binge on podcasts, blogs, and google; we horde and wish list training and certificates; we despair in thinking the really heavy, substantial knowledge is in the distant and time consuming experience we can't have.  We're uncomfortable with the way different techniques clash or seem to contradict one another.

Mostly, we hide.  We hide what's really going on with us.

As in, we stop practicing, because we're 'teaching', or because the classes raised an issue you didn't know how to deal with, or because they suddenly didn't seem to 'work'.

So many people lose the sincerity of their experience in trying to go deeper.  So many people leave yoga altogether after going through RYT 200, with a kind of heartbreak.

In December, I'm hosting an intensive (Monday-Friday, 8 - 4) on the craft of practice.  I want it to be a way for us to recover the sincerity of our practice, a kind of sussing out where we got lost and where we are, where to go.  We'll do this by parsing: getting really clear about techniques (props, sequence, tradition from modern practice).

Craft: as in, artistry, skill, worksmanship.  Elegance, efficiency, something that looks effortless. Artists in any genre or trade would tell you: there's the beginning, which is kinda wild and full of discovery and deeply emotional, often messy.  But that's not 'art'.  Art is what happens with refinement, the slow and steady ability to direct the emotion and power and material we generate, to stop wasting time, to bring something to fruition.  Any artists or craftsman would tell you: there are tools.  Art is more than self-expression: in fact, art is finally finding freedom from self-expression to something that matters in the world, something that isn't limited by your limitations, something that is more.

What does that mean for practice?  What is, personal practice?  What does that mean of yoga teaching? How do we strike back up with sincerity?

This is a requirement for RYT 500, can be used as continuing education hours, or can simply be a way to explore:

-sequencing.  how to pull together practices that work, and are developmental.  They're going somewhere.  There is a purpose to the practice.

-props.  Understand your tools.  We'll explore 'restorative', 'supported', and 'no prop' practice, as well as props as feedback loops.  You'll get savvy with chair yoga, bolsters and pillows and blankets, and learn to support your body in a shape.

-an overview of the aspects of practice, and a crash course on how to fill your toolbox: sanskrit, how to learn chant, meditation, visualization, the texts of tradition

-an understanding of the wholism of practice, and of teaching: we all have some skills, and we all have some blind spots.  Learn where you can harness what you already have, and gain what feels out of reach.

Expect a lot of practice.  A lot of silence.  And some pithy workshopping of both body, thoughts and beliefs, and how we express ourselves.  You'll come out with direction.

$800.

intimacy, pornography, yoga

This begins with a phone call from a stranger. She said she’d been Google searching for a yoga studio, found mine and tried to click it, and suddenly just like that she was watching porn. No kidding. No filter. No warning. Slapped flesh and bared bums, thrust right in your eye. So close you felt sticky. So fast you weren’t sure what happened, but that it happened in your belly and your mouth. So unexpected you were caught. I got three more phone calls within an hour. I got Emails. And I got silence. I’d been hacked. The silence was thundery. This I don’t know what’s happening. This this is out of my control.

There was a vomit of re-action, out of me. I was pissed. I recoiled. I muttered and paced. I spent hours hunched over my laptop, ignoring the physical need to pee. My face hardened and my voice went high and tight. I was embarrassed. I was crazy scared; what did I do wrong? How do I make it stop? What would happen to my writing, to the studio? To my students? What would happen to my name? I felt incompetent: I can send an email, post a blog, share on Facebook but I don’t really know how the internet, or computers, or basic math, works. Have I been playing with fire, all this time? I felt insulted. I was afraid. I was terrified people would look, for the first time ever, to find some answers about yoga or some guidance, and be slapped in the face with an aggressively erect penis. I felt, sundered. My eyes burned. I spent the whole of the night with people more tech savvy than me coaxing me through the back end of a coded labyrinth. We were trying to find the one thread, the one glitch, something maybe that blinked or was red or broke a pattern. I was blind. Eventually, these kind and more skilled than I people managed to figure out it was deep, not a superficial or amateur problem we could lift up and off and out of all those numbers. It was a seeping, poison. The best we could do was to shut the whole thing, down.

We shut the whole thing. Down.

Then, the real re-activity began.

A real question was raised. Many questions. First: what happens when you lose so much? Second, what do you replace loss, with? If, faced with having to start from scratch or trying to resurrect something from years ago, why this pull toward not losing? What is it I think I’ve lost? What emotive and pathetic and visceral psychology is this, now?

Third: what does the internet have to do with me, with yoga, with a small studio in a smallish town in the Midwest? ** Fact: most people spend vast swaths of their day, of their lives, online. We know this is impersonal, and we do it anyway. Fact two: we are a globalized, socially mediated, enormously fast, culture. This is both alienating, and connecting. Revolutions are instigated on twitter. Police brutality is caught on cellphones. People are called to protest, effectively and quickly, out of the privacy of their own otherwise uncommitted lives. People date, hook up, end up married. It’s unreal, in so many ways.

And yet there is something intimate in what we’re doing online. We laugh, out loud, so often it’s changed the language. Images, move us. Words come, into our hearts. We send out, words. I have found people I would never have been able to find – good, kind, wild, inspiring people - in the strangest of formats **. On the one hand, there is an irresponsibility and disconnect to who we are, online. We say things we would never say to a human face. We posture, frame, and pose more than we’re able to in the flesh and the heat of moments. Much of our online presence is mimicry; reposting; liking and blocking without consequence; mindless click bait that dulls the brain; polemics and memes that we shouldn’t have to post, anyway, because all our ‘friends’ are so like us they probably already agree with us. In this sense, what we’re doing is masturbation. At what other time in history have individuals so been able to curate their identity, choose their own profile, correct their image?

The pleasure centers of the brain light up when someone likes a post. We’re hooked, physiologically and emotionally and in the hours of our days. In real time.

In a sense, what we’re doing is exhibition. There is a difference between what happens in a feed and our actual posture, gait, face.

Yet, in a sense, what we’re doing is the best we can. And every once in a while, we find ourselves collectively mourning, collectively outraged, publicly validated and communally informed. We find things we would never have access to, otherwise. We browse, globally. We test world class educational systems, cutting edge research, second by second politics. We’ve access to experts and universities and artists, images, music, unimaginable to previous generations. Every once in a while, we read something that changes our lives. Sometimes, this is moving. Often, this informs our lives. We find our answers. We connect.

In the wild blue light of midnight, naked in our own bed, we sometimes get lost in human stories. We sometimes, tell them. Sometimes, we are braver than we thought. More vulnerable. More willing. More real.

This raises a question, of yoga. What was living isolated in a cave has become mass produced, readily available, consumed by millions. In the most recent Yoga in America survey, a staggering proportion of the millions doing yoga have only ever done it in their own home.

The implications, the questions, are dizzying. What if teaching were to become an internet based reality (already true)? What if this media provided a way toward depth, resources, community?

What if this is jet fuel?

Yes: the stupidity of yoga advertising, the way yoga is used to sell products completely unrelated to yoga, the blitzkrieg of ‘mindfulness’ and the stupidity of the Zen-esque memes with dubious quotes is silly. It’s heartbreaking, at times. It’s annoying and mind-dulling, always. Yet: what if we could make this, real? ** I never knew what I was doing. A long time ago, I realized procrastination and fear were a personal problem that had caused and was symptom of other deep, scary, entrenched problems in my life. I wanted, desperately wanted, to write. But most of my life was spent doing other things. Procrastinating. Deleting. Supporting other people’s writing. Believing that I wasn’t ready, wasn’t good enough, that it wasn’t gorgeous the way I needed it to be, yet. Believing I was a fraud. That no one could see the depth of what I intended to write. That if I didn’t ever manage to get the writing, out, life was meaningless. Hyperbole, probably. I can see the obsession. But this is the truest thing I know.

I once had a favorite writing professor. I kept taking her classes. In the sixth or seventh, she said she’d fail me in her course if I didn’t submit my stuff for publication. On the last day of that semester, she marched me to the corner mailbox. I dutifully deposited five fat, ponderous, promising manila envelopes, addressed and stamped, into the box’s maw. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that the envelopes were fat not with poems or even my name, but with hundreds of sheets of blank paper. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that following this façade, I’d never see this woman I’d been calling a mentor for years, ever again.

That’s mostly what my life, was. Phone calls that weren’t returned. Goals that never got off the ground. Promises that weren’t kept. A feeling that my face value was so low I’d be better off shooting blanks than offering my heart.

It was a problem, you see. If I wanted to change, I’d have to get over it. So. I committed to writing something, every single day, and hitting ‘send’.

I did this, for years. I never knew what I was doing. I never did feel, ready. ** What happens, when you lose so much?

Nostalgia distorts what was a small, daily thing, to a romantic or breakthrough one. Memory renders us. As in, tenderizes us. What was just a normal old pair of jeans, or a kitchen floor, or the laugh of a girlfriend, becomes luminous and gilded and portentous.

Honesty tells me that none of the things were so very large, when they happened. They only accumulated. They ripened. They laid down a path for next steps and next ones until I’d arrived at some wholly other place.

And yet, they were: precious. And small.

They were the story, the record, of how I left Brooklyn a willowy, jaundiced thing with dirty hair, with no home or prospects or skills, and ended a yoga teacher whose name people know in Australia, LA, and New Orleans. They were daily moments of recovering from alcoholism and a lifetime of running away, to coming home. They caught, in mis-used Sanskrit and a terrified voice, the way it was yoga that woke me up, the way I went off to teacher training not sure what teacher training meant. They enumerated the insights; how to teach, how to move. How to love. How to be, upright. The seeking out of something that could answer, something that made sense, someone who could help me. The looking for teachers. The wisdom of the teachers. The becoming, my own, teaching.

I felt like a kid who’d spent all day painstakingly, deep focusingly, care-fully constructing a fort out of feeble materials on unsteady ground. Only to have it knocked over by wind. I felt like I’d been hunched over a jigsaw puzzle, for years, trying the strange little pieces in my hands at different angles and different light. The kinda puzzle that covers the dining room table. Takes months. Establishes residency and re-arranges your diet. Then, someone kicks it.

I never knew what I was doing. I just hit send, one day, and kept on sending. It was mostly rough. Hardly coherent. When I needed a tool, I’d slowly learn it. And then some other tool. So that given years, I don’t remember the little things I learned along the way, what I started with, or how it’s all jerry-rigged together. So many, words. So many times the tool was a bit of flesh and tenderness, a skinned knee insight, the calloused knuckle of many other hours, undocumented. So often, it was licking my dry lips, swallowing, and opening my mouth to break a silence. Or to invoke one.

People read them. People found their strange, oddly shaped little pieces and turned them in their fingers, held them up to different light, cocked their chin and focused their gaze. What happens when we lose something, or someone, or the way we took to be normal, is that we aren’t sure we’re ourselves, after all. The quip says something like, if you did a one armed handstand but didn’t post to Instagram, did it ever really happen?

Of course, it did. Of course, this is what yoga philosophy is for. It’s trite and it’s full of pathos and lamentably awkward positions, but it is our life, our identity, and when our identity is questioned, all sorts of monstrous emotions erupt. Monstrous: wild, huge, irrational, strange.

This is what yoga, says: our identity is mostly a house of cards, a duct taped fort, a castle of twigs. Sometimes, they topple.

I answered a friend: it wasn’t very good, most of it. If it was, it was good by its honesty. It’s naked. Good by heartrending. It was good only for being the moment of change, scored in ink. It was, I think, a good story.

I went on: It’s okay to let it go. ** It was a good story.

But the thing was, all of it, every flash of clarity or moment of rare authenticity, every long worked for skill or accidental wisdom, was nothing if passage to the next step and a new question.

The longing, the pull, to recover or not lose the past is a plea of identity. We fear we will lose, credibility. A thinking that our merit or goodness or worth lies in something we did, a long time ago. We tend to think we are, who we’ve been. Go ahead and try thinking differently. I mean it. I dare you. Try. For all our talk of neuroplasticity, healing, authenticity, and change, we none of us are very good at believing we can change.

And, in a sense, this is true. We are what we have learned, how we have loved, what we’ve experienced. But we are not limited to that experience. We are not, that experience. The experience is gone. We are, only, what we make of that experience, now. How we use the ingredients of this moment, the seasoning of what we remember, the courage of having survived, so far. It’s uncanny to think about, really. That we are here.

You replace loss, with this. ** This isn’t a story about yoga, I suppose. It’s a private bitch session about having your work, though it’s value be negligible, erased by something as faceless and as cruel as an internet hack and pornography. I felt lost and personally insulted, but had no one to be personally mad at or put responsibility, on.

It was only in the hours that followed, when other tech worldly people told me of their own experience of smut wiping out their sentences, their hours, and their accounts, that I realized part of what I felt was violated. I’ve written about that word, before. In the context of rape, domestic violence, a wider culture of violence. Somewhere, in that long tract of words I can’t go back to, I said violation is having the self, destroyed, by a force or a person or a culture that is indifferent to the personal nature of the crime. It’s having one’s self, denied.

Shortly after realizing that was what I felt, I didn’t feel it any more. It wasn’t, personal. In the context of all the world, my website was nothing. Nothing compared to gun violence, terror and crime. All these things I was aware of, yet separate from, through that miraculous communication maelstrom called the internet. My loss was nothing compared to the things I know are not broadcast, but closer to home, so close I know they are secrets in my community, in my friend’s lives, in every body that walks in the door: loss, time, violence, identity, tits and ass. In regards to wider culture, and the private lives, and the way I know most human beings are more likely to look for answers and support when alone, after hours, or before the kids are awake, the question is not what I’ve lost but what I’m going to do.

Yoga was once ascetic; lonely men, who chose to live in caves. Today, it’s hawked at Walmart. It’s so readily available there is a glut. As in, gluttony.

And yet, we moderns all seem isolated. We’re every one of us weary. We are all, lost and seeking. We might as well be living in caves. Caves of modernity, lit by screens, shadowed by ancient human drives and young fears. The web (the weave, the tantra, the thread, the sutra, the line, the union) can function just as well as any ancient practice.

More. I say: more. I have three teachers that I talk with, once a month, via skype. Not a single one of those airy, oddly lit conversations is terribly meaningful. But the fact that I can have them, that I go on having them month after month until years have gone by, means something. The fact that I get handwritten letters from Belgium, wishing the author could study with me. The emails I get from students who have moved away, saying they miss my classes. The distant friends who have never practiced with me, but say ‘I wish you taught here’. Young girls are googling yoga for eating disorders, middle aged women are looking for something more humane than the tripe offered by the health care industry, men and boys are looking up symptoms and workouts and top ten lists from smartphones and iPads. Even those in the minority who do seek out a yoga class in a gym or a studio or a library tend, after some little study, to start a process of wondering: how to find more; real; better; answers; guidance; teaching. It can be hard to find, teaching.

I often snarl at wider yoga culture. And I am leery of prescriptive, one size fits all, nothing but asana, approaches to yoga. People trying to handstand in their bedrooms, without ever having met a teacher. Reading about meditation, endlessly, but unable to find two minutes a day to make it real. Scared, if it does get real, because it’s so real. And they are so alone. This frustrates me and worries me.

And yet: yoga is connection. Yoga is intimate, or it’s nothing. I snarl and say yoga’s gotten the soul kicked out if it, it’s been prostituted, it’s been bought and sold and it’s hollowed. I say yoga is intimacy: wherever we happen to start, something in us touched, irritated, or called out. I say screw around all you want, take it lightly, go for the circus tricks or the weight loss or the stress busting. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to get personal if you want it to keep going, at all.

We do, start to take it, personally. We start to wonder. What if? What is this? What more? Is it possible? We don’t ask in a hypothetical kinda way, but in the ruthlessly personal one. The kind that shows up out of nowhere, surprises you with its immediacy, worries you with its questions.

We’re asking some of the most private and scary questions of our lives. We’re talking about our bodies, for god’s sake. We’re starting to feel things and wonder things we don’t have easy answers for, can’t quite wrap our minds around. The sense of feeling grounded and safe, of empowerment, of release, all the quirks and the hang ups that show up in our head, the behaviors that start to come out of us, all this is nothing if not personal. I’m looking for the light, please help me, said the student. Forget the light, said teacher: give me your reaching. The question isn’t what I’ve lost, but what I can offer. What I’ve got left to.

Everything. Personal. My very own self; whole. In a world where sex is porn and yoga is cheap, I want to offer love. I want to have breathy conversations about the soul.

(The joke of it is, it all came back. All the words, the website, the format, the story. But in losing it, I realized that wasn’t ever the question.)

the art of transformationcreative

Personal Practice

the-brain-is.jpg

Around my sangha - in the studio, via the internets, in conversation - people are in some pretty deep practice.  Some are beginning or ending a training program.  Some are in the online course.  Some have dealt with major health or life changes and are having to shift their priorities, values, and practices around.  A lot of them are in pancha karma, or the annual house cleaning of the body mind. Whenever people start digging around in the meaning and the experience of their practice, they ask what my practice, is.  I mean I start to push buttons and challenge assumptions.  I spend a lot of time saying neti, neti or not that, not that.  Practice is not accomplishing a pose.  Practice is not getting better at asana, though you will in spite of yourself.  Practice is probably not even getting healthier, although that probably comes along as a side effect.  Practice isn't the techniques of practice.  Recently, I've been saying practice is not arms and legs, practice is not alignment, practice is not hamstrings and shoulders and backbends.  I've been citing the oldest yoga texts to back me up on this: the hatha yoga pradipika, the yoga yagnavalkya, the sutras, the vedas.  Asana aren't mentioned there except as breath and organs, spine stuff, the interface of attention, feeling, and having a body.  I've been backing it up, too, with modern science and functional movement: asana classes that focus on vinyasa flow or yin or weight loss or restoration are imbalancing, and not the practice.

So people tend to wonder, quite fairly, what's left if practice isn't any of those things.

My practice looks like this:

  • 45 minutes of meditation
  • half an hour of squiggling my spine and diaphragm free (all that lay on a blanket, inhale exhale stuff)
  • 10 to 30 minutes of asana.  Like four poses.
  • Once a week I get a solid couple of hours in.  I sweat my butt off and I shake.
  • Once or twice a year, I have a private session
  • whenever I can, I go on retreat or training, take a class.  This is workshopping time, learning time, and teacher time.  Being a student, time.
  • once a month i skype with my teachers.

You get the point.  Asana is given the least importance, and the least time.

But it's also vital and necessary.  I go a few days without, and my character gets gross.  My skin changes.  My muscles backslide.

This is what my practice is like, now.  It's been different at different points.  It'll be different again in future.  But I'm not 'practicing' when I teach.  I'm working with your bodies, not mine.  And my asana is only mildly 'progressing': it's mostly medicinal, with a faint edge of blowing my own mind and pushing my own envelope.  But that's not toward handstands or feet on my head.  It's breath work and tiny flickers of movement, integrating movement, steadiness and control.

the brain isThere have been years where I've had the luxury of a yoga class every day.  There have been years of privates, once a month.  Those are feeding times, but they are not standard.  They give me nourishment for the upcoming not-class and not-privates, part.  I need them to not gnaw my own paws off, or get so alone I think I'm doing the right things when really practicing my bad habits.  I learn so much in them that it takes a few months and years of trying to integrate the stuff before it sinks in.  I get insights two and three years after a meditation session.  I remember a teacher's hand, five years after the hand touched me.  Here's the thing: I both needed the hand five years ago, and i needed five years of ongoing in the meantime practice to understand and really feel the hand.

Over and over again, I have to teach, say, learn: most of this is stuff you'll do, alone.  And, you can't do it alone.  In a lifetime, most of the 'time' you spend in yoga will have been solitary.  But much of the breakthrough, comfort, information, challenge and peak will be something that cost a bit more in effort, time, boundaries, and personal gumption.  It'll come from someone else, provoking you to change.  Giving you a chance.  Giving you feedback or asking if you knew your hip was crooked, inviting you to some other door that you couldn't see on your own.  A teacher is not a person.  A teacher a is a context in which you can change.  No teacher, no context.  But the teacher doesn't matter, isn't a person, not a guru or a miracle or a visionary.  Just a role you need in your life.

Most of my practice is not asana.  It's reading, studying, writing, service work.  It's little assignments teachers give me with the sutras.  It's hiaku writing, as a practice.  It's gone back to a mindfulness of dishwashing.

I want people to go deep into practice.  I want them to go more deeply into what it means.  And what it means is their lives.  Their feelings.  Their health.  Their relationships, career, meditation.  Maybe I'm a bad yoga teacher, but I tend to think practice is not yoga class.  It's everything yoga class introduces you, to.  But I think yoga class remains the backbone, the frame, the measuring stick.  Inability or unwillingess to get to a class is a sign.  But so is addiction to or dependence on class.  So often we say we don't have time or money, but that's not actually the issue.  And so often we want the classes to be enough, we aren't ready to commit money or personal time to things like trainings, privates, retreats, reading the books and doing the homework.  There isn't anything wrong with whatever 'your practice' or lack thereof happens to be, so long as we get it: it's a reflection of values and choices.  I know and respect and love some yogis and zen teachers who have completely left the yoga world.  Closed studios.  Started some other career.  I know others who have opened studios.  I know people who leave teaching so that they can reclaim learning.  And I know people who keep saying they want yoga (insert: health, ease, serenity, time, to 'get it', to do teacher training, whatever) but never seem to get around to it.

My practice is asana.  And it's not asana, at all.  It is teaching.  And it's not, at all.  But it is, every single day.  After years of this, I couldn't begin to tell you what has changed most, what is most important, what i love or what i hate.  I'm still trying to find what inhale, means.

I sit for 45 minutes.  I move slow through my spine breath.  I do asana for ten minutes.  And then I move on.  Once a week, I take hours.  And that once a week resets me from bones to neurons.  Once in a blue moon, I have others to help me along the path.