One of the most important lessons I got in teaching yoga had nothing to do with my teacher training.
I was volunteering at the North Valley Senior Center here in Albuquerque. Those yogis taught me about community, practicality, triumph and longevity. And one of my lessons came at a moment of my own failure.
Yogis of every size, shape and experience level were a part of this class and over months I taught them basic Sun Salutations and variations.
Or so I thought.
After about 9 months of twice weekly 90 minute classes - and most of these yogis were very dedicated - I decided to come in and ask them to begin the Sun Salutation series on their own so I could come through for individual feedback and consultation. I stood at the back of the room and awaited the flood breath and motion.
Only a trickle flowed. A hesitant, confused trickle of people looking at one another and making motions - some of them related to Sun Salutations, but mostly shrugging of shoulders and Scooby faces.
I had failed them.
All I had taught them was to look at me and follow. True, this alone had gotten them to some pretty cool places; the stories of mobility and activity regained through the practice had awed me and moved me to tears. But following meant they were reliant on me or some other teacher. I knew from teaching Philosophy at Mizzou and EMS at UNM's EMS Academy that real learning leads to independence, not dependence. Indepent, successful, inspired people return for more from interest and commitment. Reliant people cannot make the most of their efforts and miss out on everything you have to share.
This wasn't a popular philosophy with the studio where I taught and I realized I would have to break some pretty sturdy molds to create a teaching practice with this philosophy. But those dedicated yogis of the North Valley Senior Center were up to be my guinea pigs - they loved the practice and when they learned that I believed they could have independent practices, they flourished.
I didn't perfect my style while I still volunteered there, but I began. I'm not much for perfection but I'm on fire for revision. Responsive iteration is what I like to call it: put it out there, see how people respond, respond to how they use it, how they stumble, how they triumph. It means you're never done, but I dig that kind of work.
I did start a blog where I shared each week's practice plan with alignment tips and recorded my very first audio. Tech has come so far that now I can record every single class within minutes post it for followers. I can create special classes for busy people to nurture their classes. And design special practices for individuals.
And what North Valley Senior Center Yogis taught me is that seeing someone else practice doesn't help you learn very much after you've got foot and arm placement. Learning to listen - to respond to how things feel as you try them, to feel your own body in space without matching it to someone else's, to imagine how words correspond to feelings and actions in your body - is the project of yoga. When you listen, you feel. When you feel you connect and you possess what you do. You can repeat it, change it, ask questions about it because it's really yours. It may not be perfect, but it will be perfectly yours. And you'll revise it next practice - that's what practice is: vision, revision, feeling, reponding, revision.
That's why I share only audio. Have your practice, don't watch someone else's. I'm listening - what would you like me to hear?
You've just experienced the bandhas. True, there's far more practice, finesse and exploration to do, but it would be disappointing if 7,000 years of investigating the human body were completely revealed in a 30 second exercise. This is, of course, just the beginning.
In May's Yinyasative classes, we'll be using three different breathing techniques to connect to, engage and release and explore the usefulness of the bandhas. While pelvic floor connection and engagement does indeed have the benefits showcased on "The View," you now also see some of the more mundane, but at least as practically applicable benefits of exploring this connection.
We'll then take that sense of connection and apply it in a variety of postures to create experience and strength in the "true core."
Join us to be guided through a selection of some of these postures and techniques in every class (we'll get through this and more in the workshop on the 16th, with modifications available for all levels). Check out the small group class schedule and scroll down to register for your first free class!
"You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny." - Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
A brand new, fresh year. Someone told me yesterday that they love January because everything seems so possible for him. Here in the deep, dark of winter we make time for one last hurrah on New Year's Eve (even if that's just watching a ball drop or clinking glasses with sparkling water before going to bed at 10pm) and then wipe the proverbial slate clean as we awaken the next morning.
But what slate? What's changed? People make resolutions every year and a dismal number are still connected to them just 6 weeks later at Valentines.
Often we imagine that by saying something, maybe buying a new pair of shoes or equipment, we can squeeze our eyes shut real tight, ball up our fists and click our heels three times to arrive where we said we wanted to go.
But what if we had more important places to go? What if the thing we chose was really just the tip of the ice berg - or even a distraction from the root of what we intended to change? More importantly,
What if you're already whole and complete?
If you're already whole (spoiler alert: you are.) then the best thing you can do is connect to your deepest driving desire, your heartfelt desire, and plant that seed in the nurturing soil of your embodied consciousness, visit it often and allow for organic transformation over time. A year is a good span to live with.
You have a two step plan to get started, but don't worry, you'll enjoy these steps. You can rinse and repeat often over time, and here's the kicker: you'll want to.
Step One: Practice Yoga Nidra 61 points relaxation with enough time after to rest and listen to your heart, body, wisdom, journal if that's your thing. The deepest driving desire, your heartfelt truth may arise as a feeling, words, images. Just listen. Whatever you come up with - and if it seems like nothing, that's okay - you can't do this wrong - state it positively. Whatever is true "I am whole." "I am relaxed and open to new experience." "I am listening." These are simply examples, the possibilities are endless.
Step Two: Come back another time, remembering your expression of your heartfelt truth. Repeat Yoga Nidra 61 points and silently repeat your heartfelt truth in the stillness you've created through the practice.
A Sankalpa is more than a wish, a resolution or a petition. Rather than imposing a goal on your life, you allow a deep longing, heartfelt truth, to arise and then you actually pay attention to it. In listening, you commit to taking actions that this longing calls you to.
The heart center - the place where people rest their hand organically when making a decision, where joy can sometimes be felt as a leap and loss can feel like an actual cavern - is called "Anahata" in Sanskrit: unstruck. Like a bell. Like your original nature before the ups and downs of this life gave you habits and grooves, armor and vices. Like you.
Connecting to this sense of original self, a self without agendas or pretensions, is a matter of peeling back layers, in yoga and Sanskrit called "Koshas." Think of these as layers of how we learn to relate to ourselves. In Sanskrit, from the first to connect to to the final, here's what they're called and what it means:
You can turn them into questions to guide your practice and, in Yoga Nidra, you can bring them into awareness and learn how to deeply listen for your deepest driving desire, your heartfelt truth, that thing that lies under all the other things. In January we'll be working with the questions in classes, they're very simple and you can use them at home and in other activities:
Yoga Nidra can be practiced alone or after practice and we'll be approaching it in Savasana often this month through the 61 points practice. Technically, Yoga Nidra is the state of mind and the practice is a method for creating it, though people often use the term "Yoga Nidra" to refer to the practices that can lead to it.
There are many recordings you can use to guide you in the 61 points practice and sustaining awareness in the stillness it creates. You'll receive a free Yoga Nidra Guided Imagery Meditation when you sign up for the newsletter at the top right and you can use this to get started. We'll use this during New Year's Day YinYasative Celebration as well as the Restorative Workshop on Saturday, when we'll have plenty of time to take this journey twice in a restful, supported, even pampered environment. We'll practice a version at the end of most January classes.
Leave a comment and share how your experience with 61 Points Practice or Yoga Nidra and inspire others!
What many people don't realize about yoga is that more than poses, breathing techniques, inspiration or pants, yoga is about habits: how to release them, how to establish them and what they are for.
In the Sutras, Patanjali (the guy who gets credit for writing down the note-like sentences in that book) talks about samskara, or grooves. In scientific lingo, these are the probabilities that certain neurons firing will lead to certain others firing. We experience them every day as our routines, our cravings and in many ways the framework for our experiences.
We can let go of, cling to or transform the framework of our experiences. All that is required is awareness, compassion and patience. Just three things, but each a deep and inexhaustible process.
This morning I experienced a break through of sorts in my habits, one I've experienced before and will, no doubt, experience again. Having recently changed my work identity, place, process and focus, I've been feeling a bit of anxiety for the last month. I resigned as a Paramedic last month and though I'll still hold my license for another year or so, that will fall away, too. I made this choice because the time necessary to maintain that license and the proficiency that it ought to represent was taking away from the time I had to grow as a yoga guide and business owner. I had a wonderful party with my yoga peeps to celebrate and lunch with my paramedic peeps and it was as graceful and joyous a transition as I could imagine. But even these come with anxieties born of doubt, fear and other delusions like identity and security.
And when I feel anxious or destabilized - even for really awesome reasons - I have a set of habits, like tics, that I find deeply comforting and reassuring. I go to the gym, which is my happy place from way, way back. I check email too often and very early. I check the bank accounts and update the budget with annoying accuracy. And I do these things upon waking, before practicing yoga, hiking or engaging in any of the other deeply nourishing practices I've established as an adult. Luckily I've pruned out the truly unhealthy habits of younger days and each of these activities has value in the grand scheme. They paradoxically give me great comfort while undermining my equanimity. They involve a certain grasping over-focus that encourages the shadow side of my personality to emerge: the Control Freak Worrier. But it's only when that Control Freak Worrier emerges that I can invite her to tea.
And I learned a long time ago that fighting these tendencies does not lead to their lessening. Just as Patanjali says, what we resist, persists (he, of course, says it in fancy Sanskrit). So when I begin to recognize my need to control freak check things, be in proximity to metal plates and loud music and do tedious math... I just do it. I've learned through years of observing my own patterns that this is temporary and fighting it just draws out the pattern. So I wake to NPR on the East Coast, make the Black Lightening coffee, fire up the computer and counter to everything we know about productivity and peace, I check email, website stats, bank accounts, budgets and then do yoga, hike and head to the gym. I give in. My little Control Freak needs to be heard, seen, brought into awareness, listened to and this is her language.
It's been three weeks this time. A few days ago I started longing for my more peaceful morning routine - still with the Black Lightening coffee, but in quiet, reading Dogen, with a shorter trajectory to my mat and my hike and longer one to email. It took me about three days of being aware of the urge to return to my Dogen routine before it felt okay to have it, so for a couple of days I sat with the tension between not-reading-Dogen and checking-on-things before giving in to my Control Freak. She had a few more cries to get out, a few more things to say.
This morning, making coffee and petting John Denver (our Husky puppy) in the dark before dawn, I awakened to the lack of that tension. Little Control Freak had gone back for her nap, down under the fertile layers of consciousness for more integration, digestion and warmth. I know she'll be part of me for as long as there's a me, but I've grown fond of her and her quirky needs for reassurance. I've learned that the less I fight, the more I bring to awareness, the easier it is to have the "healthy" habits that Little Control Freak would like to impose but can never seem to establish. Oddly, by letting her have her freakish moments, we both get what we need.
It's the process of awareness, of compassion and of sometimes putting our grand plans to the side for a bit so that what is freakish, quirky and seemingly all-we-do-not-want can shine and burn brightly: this clears out the pipes so we can have our clear, peaceful mornings that seem so ideal.
This is why you won't find "challenges" here, or 30 day plans to re-vamp your self. While they have their place in learning skills, tools and techniques, they aren't the path to organic transformation. Go to the other websites for boot camps and 21 days to your yoga booty. Come here to find support for unravelling all that on your mat and looking at and holding dear everything it stirs up and covers up. They're both useful activities, the learning skills and the unravelling; there just aren't very many places to support the unravelling and raveling, though. It's not as category-friendly as skill learning boot camps. But it IS the missing ingredient. Add a little into your recipe. Let me know what it looks like for you - leave a comment about your stirring and covering and letting go. That's what this is here for: let it go.