A student’s story: Real Yoga

What I do.

My work is akin to that of a Medicine Woman. I dose intuitively as any good Medicine Woman does.

What one student has to say, reprinted with permission.

 

red yogini

 

“If talking did shit, we’d all be cured by now.”

“That is a line from one of my favorite movies, Girl Interrupted. It’s a movie about a girl’s struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, one of the many diagnoses I was branded with throughout my journey of mental illness, in addition to anxiety, psychosis, ADHD, severe depression, suicidal ideation, self-harm tendencies, and bipolar disorder. By age 30 I was hospitalized 7 times on a psych ward, had undergone psychotherapy for nearly 20 years, and was prescribed just about every medication for which they could write a prescription. None worked other than on a temporary basis and a lot of which made matters worse. My life becane a series of crises and interventions with very brief bursts of sanity.

Luckily, through the course of all that madness, I met Linda. When I was 19 I walked into a yoga class at my college to fulfill a PE credit. I took her class every semester after that, every single semester. Over the next 10 years I would periodically look Linda up and drop into a class here and there or just chat with her. I had tried other yoga classes, most of them I would leave before the class was even over. I was blessed that the first yoga I practiced was with Linda, because only real yoga was going to help me. Around my 30th birthday I found myself again inside a chaotic darkness that I had created, so I looked Linda up again to see if she had some wisdom to quiet the demons that were haunting my soul. She was doing private yoga sessions and I scheduled one as soon as I could.

I will never forget that first session with her. Just being in her presence calmed me like it always had. We talked a good long time and the things she said changed the way my brain worked as if she had rewired it.

One of her first bits of wisdom was that “the pain is the cure.” This brought me back to something a counselor had said to me, a lovely woman who taught a spirituality class on the psych ward. She had always said, “depression is ungrieved loss.” Those words hit me every time she said them but when put into the context with what Linda said, it finally clicked.

I had been running from pain for as long as I could remember, pushing it away with drugs, alcohol, boys, shopping sprees, anything so I wouldn’t have to feel the hole that was ripping through my soul. I was conditioned to think by many psychiatrists that I could not trust my emotions because they were so dangerous and so extreme and my brain chemistry was working against me, so they had to be controlled with medication for the rest of my life. But all that did was put a band-aid over a bullet hole, when what I needed to do was dig into it and clear out all the dead tissue that was not serving me anymore. I came to the conclusion that I had to feel in order to deal and Linda explained that I needed to think less and feel more which completely contradicted everything I had ever been told.

She was absolutely right. I needed to radically accept the fear, the hurt, and the anger that were choking my soul.

But it did not stop at words with Linda. She showed me through yoga and breathing techniques how to allow these emotions to surface in a safe place where they would not be judged or labeled or manipulated. They were allowed to run their course no matter what that course was, and I learned what fear and anger felt like in my body, and grieve. I have many memories of being in a state of psychotic breakdown, crying, struggling to breath, and screaming out, “I want to go home,” and I was in my bedroom in my house, but I was not home. I never felt home anywhere until this day with Linda. I found that home I did not know existed. I left that first session in a bit of a daze. I drove home and I sat in my room and all I could think was, “it is so quiet.” All of my life my mind never stopped, I was constantly thinking, analyzing, scheming, or rambling, and now it was quiet. There was nothing, sweet, sweet nothing. For the first time I knew I was going to be okay.

People ask me why I don’t just go to see a “regular” therapist, and the answer is simple and goes back to the first thing I said. If talking did shit, I would have been cured a long time ago. The way I see it, a psychotherapist’s goal is to help you make peace with your past to make you functional in society; a religious therapist’s goal is to get you right with your Creator so that you are happy in the afterlife; but yoga therapy is about finding peace within yourself for yourself right now. Plus, yoga is so much more then talking. It is connecting your mind, body, and breath so that you are empowered and know that you are in control of yourself, the only thing you really can control. It is being able to be Home no matter where you are because home is inside you. You cannot put a price on that.

To be continued….”

Modern American Yoga (TM)

IMG_0334I no longer write as prolifically as I once did.  I started this blog in 2005 and the Yoga Blogosphere as changed tremendously in 10 years.  Modern Yoga Bloggers have forgotten whom their elders are.

What some bloggers write about now I wrote about 3, 5, even 7 years ago: ageism, diversity, “slow yoga.”  “Slow Yoga” is a thing now (Google it) and I’ve been teaching slow since 2005 when I first came back from the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But sometimes things scream to be called out and discussed.

A long time, old school yoga teacher told me that where she’s from a yoga studio requires newbie teachers to “brand” themselves before finishing a one month yoga teacher training, i.e., make a website, a Facebook page, social media presence, etc., etc. etc.

Do the math.  If a large city has 1000+ YTTs, old school teachers like her and I are doomed.

BRANDING before teaching.

BRANDING before experiencing.

BRANDING before Living Your Yoga.

When I did my first website it took me 6 months to write my yoga bio.  Even after I studied in India the first time I thought that if I wrote too much about myself it would look like I was bragging.

Some people say that social media is the new normal. But I believe in what Buckminster Fuller said:

“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”

Believe me, I try. But I’m tired.  Damn tired.  I believe in old school yoga teacher training, mentoring.  But my mentoring page is the loneliest page on my website.  I am not concerned with offering a standard 200 or 300 hour training because I believe in quality, not quantity.  Unfortunately, that’s not good for business because people chase the piece of paper that proclaims them a certified yoga teacher.  I can easily put together a 200 or 300 hour training based on 10 years of notes from the Mandiram alone.  But frankly, no one is interested.  Here.  I believe it takes 10 years of yoga teaching to learn how to teach besides having a dedicated personal yoga and meditation practice.  No one wants to hear that.

Like in real estate, it’s about location, location, location.  All I know is that in my area yoga teachers are a dime a dozen.  With yoga studios cranking out new teachers every week, there is no place for Yoga Elders.  I’m not whining, I’m just being realistic.

So I’m leaving.  Done, baby.  I’m going somewhere where what I teach is valued and appreciated.  One of my students gave me a testimonial:

 “Linda is Yoga. Living, breathing, in every aspect. Caring, supportive, knowledgeable, fun-loving, she walks the talk.”

That’s why I’m leaving.  Because I have too much passion for what I do if that makes any sense.

Goddess willing, I’ll live in Kerala, India by the end of next year and into 2017.  I’ve already started to look at houses to rent with space to teach.  I’ve been asked to do teacher trainings in India.  When I’m in India and I am asked what I do and I say “I’m a yoga teacher” people actually have respect for that.  They ask me who my guru is instead of telling me, “I do Pilates.”  No one asks  me what style of yoga do I teach.  I’m asked not to leave, to stay and teach, to help people.  No one pillories me for using the phrase “real yoga.”

Yeah, I said it.  REAL YOGA.  I’ve always said the real yoga kicks in during a health crisis or dealing with your own mortality. My yoga sadhana helped me through an ovarian cancer scare years ago.  It made me realize that “I am not this body” and it brought me peace.  When my time comes I’ll be chanting and doing pranayama, Goddess willing.  Thanks to my friend Cora Wen for making this beautiful video.

But what Cora talks about in her video, you can’t brand it.  You can’t Instagram it,  You can’t trademark it.

You can only live it.  Because Yoga is Life.

teaching trauma sensitive yoga

Last year I wrote a three part series on trauma sensitive yoga after my training at The Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts.  I posted the series on the LinkedIn page of the International Association of Yoga Therapists  and shortly thereafter Kelly Birch, the editor of Yoga Therapy Today (IAYT’s magazine for members), asked me to write an article.  I was honored (and humbled) to be asked!

My article, Compassionate Presence: Teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, has finally been published in the current issue (Summer 2012.)  And let me tell you, it is damn hard writing for someone else!  I now know the value of a good editor because Kelly was fantastic.  I am even more honored to be in a magazine that also has an article about the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.

At this point in time only IAYT members can access the site to read the article, but you can download the .pdf from the above link.  Please share it with someone whom you think might benefit.   Kausthub Desikachar told us in one of my trainings that we must share what we have learned, otherwise we are nothing more than thieves, taking and not giving.

For me, real yoga is about personal transformation and healing.  My long time readers know that I teach at a domestic violence shelter and some of the women have started to come to me for classes.  Coincidentally, the day I received word that Yoga Therapy Today was being mailed out, I received a call from a woman suffering from PTSD because of an incident four years ago.   She had googled “trauma sensitive yoga” in the Chicago area but was concerned that maybe I would not drive almost an hour to see her.  The drive did not concern me because after I talked with her I knew yoga would help.

As I wrote a practice for her, a voice told me, “give her a mantra”, something which I’ve never done before with a private student.   Somehow I knew she would connect with a mantra.  We met, she did the practice, and I gave her pranayama and the mantra, OM JYOTI AHAM — “I am the Divine Light.”

The change was noticeable after the practice.  She looked lighter and happier and her eyes were brighter compared to when I walked in.   She smiled and said that it was the calmest she had felt in four years even though she takes medication.   I told her that all I did was give her a road map pointing the way out, now she has to drive.  I told her that she had to something from practice every day, even if it is merely sitting and watching her breath.  She wants to continue working with me once a week.

Humbled, honored to do this work — who needs to be a yoga rock star?  This is priceless.

karma yoga and yoga community

October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and before it ends I want to make you aware of statistics on domestic violence.  This is a post I wrote last year with things that may shock you.  Or not.

The yoga fundraiser on Saturday was a success in that a dozen people attended (mostly my students and others who know me) and once the cash is doubled by a private charitable trust, the shelter will receive a little over $1,000.  Included in that amount is a check for $300 sent by a woman who took a few classes with me a long time ago because she could not attend the fundraiser but she would “be there in spirit.”  Nice!

I met with the shelter director during the summer and we talked about starting a weekly yoga program, but at this point in time there is no money for it (I only teach one night a month.)  People always ask me, “why don’t they just apply for a grant so they can pay you?”  The shelter recently received a $20,000 grant from the Mary Kay Foundation and this is what the director told me about that:

“The $20,000 is general operating money that is really just filling a hole we had where we had lost funding over the last couple of years.  We are still running with a skeleton crew that are stretched way too thin.  On top of that, they have not gotten even a cost of living increase in over 3 years.  So that is my first priority as far as funding goes…then I can start thinking about new projects and expanding different projects.  The grant writer is still looking for money specific to a new and innovative way to help victims.”

“A new and innovative way to help victims” means my yoga program.  And so it goes.  And that’s why I do a fundraiser for the shelter.

For about a month before the fundraiser I busted my asana trying to get the word out — emails to local papers, emails to local yoga peeps, tweeting, Facebook, posting flyers in health food stores and coffeehouses, etc.  I understand now how people working for non-profits get burned out.  The owner of the dance studio where the fundraiser was held did a great job getting the word out, she put a flyer into everyone’s hand who came into the studio.  The Nia and dance community also helped spread the the word.  But one group was conspicuous by their absence, in fact, their silence was  deafening.  Need I say it?  The local community of yoga teachers.

I’m beginning to think that use of the phrase “yoga community” should be banned because it’s basically meaningless — at least where I live, but your mileage may vary.  The phrase is used (overused?) in the yoga blogosphere when people write about a group of teachers and/or students getting together for a cause.  My own “yoga community” (which will forever be placed in quotes) is relatively small and most teachers know of or personally know each other.  Hell, me and 7 other yoga teachers use the same massage therapist so every month I get the local yoga 411.

But it never fails to amaze me when a group of people that speaks so much about seva and karma yoga, and who think Seane Corn and Russell Simmons are so cool to occupy Wall Street, can be silent about something going on in their own locale, for a local cause.  To quote two yoga teacher friends (one who attended and one who helped spread the word every week, both who also consider themselves yoga outsiders), they were “amazed” and “horrified” that despite knowing about a yoga fundraiser for a local women’s issue, there was little interest shown by local teachers.  I did hear from two (out of the 20+ teachers who got my email blast) who told me they were sorry they could not attend.

Why is this so-called “yoga community” that is coveted so much so elusive?

Believe me, I get the fact that everyone has their own favorite cause that they donate to, my cause isn’t your cause, but that’s not the point at all.  I don’t care if someone donates $1.00 or $100, support is given in ways other than money.  Sometimes time and interest are more precious than dollar bills.  Don’t support someone expecting to get something in return.  I mean, really?  Read the Gita.  That does not even karmically compute.  Sometimes you do things to help, unasked.  Just ’cause it’s the right thing to do.

The kicker was when a local teacher who was a Facebook “friend” deleted my comment about the fundraiser and defriended me.  Wow.  Didn’t know promoting seva is such an evil thing to do.  She had posted on her FB page about an event at the local studio that was in the evening on the same day as the fundraiser.  I commented something to the effect, “don’t forget about the yoga fundraiser: karma yoga, go out to dinner, then go to the event.”  That was it.  Innocuous.  The thing is, I’ve known this teacher for about 7 years, I’ve been in her class, she’s been in mine, not friends (as I don’t use that term loosely), but acquaintances, knowing the same local yoga peeps.  Delete.  Defriend.  Uh, what?!?  The irony was that she had sent me a message a few weeks earlier about how important domestic violence issues are to her and she wanted to donate money.  Guess I’m not getting that dough now.

With one of the themes being superficiality, I always loved the way Burl Ives’ character in the movie Cat on a Hot Tin Roof spit out the word mendacity as something unacceptable.

When another blog reader posted this on my FB wall, I had to chuckle.  Good in theory, in practice, maybe not so much:  “hold a fundraising event for a local charity…the success of working and coming together to do something good close to home creates a perfect opportunity for students to connect with one another.”

Over the the past month I’ve had a good think about this whole “yoga community” idea/ideal that is perpetrated in the we’re-all-one-big-happy-kula, kumbaya.  It is something that some yoga person somewhere is always telling us to strive for, i.e., the collective yoga thang.  Buddhists refer to it as sangha.  The Universe must be sending me messages because just when I needed to hear it, I received another email from a relatively new reader in Canada.  The writer told me that while her yoga journey is not as seasoned as my own, she does know that “the ‘yoga community’ is the one you create, in your heart and in your space.  I only allow those that resonate my values into my space.”  Very wise.  And true.

I will also take the words of my Sister Kali Grrl, Svasti, to heart:  “work at defusing your road rage, and/or all those little things that niggle you in life. The stuff that makes you snarky, snippy or snappy at yourself/others on your bad days. Because my lovelies, THAT is all inflammation. And too much inflammation will make you sick.”   Because Svasti and others who resonate my values ARE my yoga community, my sangha, and it’s not necessarily where I live.  It was serendipitous to also read that “real communities live because of a passion that is shared by those who belong to it. And when it’s strong enough, that community can exist anywhere.”

I’m universal, and I forgot, for a short time, when I was at my lowest yet again, my passion all wrung out, that I am indeed swimming in grace.

In the end, does any of it really matter, that is, is it really important to me who gives a damn?  Maybe, maybe not, but a wise friend told me a long time ago, “stay passionate and keep holding that mirror up because somebody’s got to do it.”

But if you see Seane Corn, tell her to put her money where her mouth is and send a yoga sister some healthy bucks from her organization to start a weekly yoga program at the shelter.

Kumbaya, y’all.

re-inspired for #realyoga

This year has been on-again, off-again for me insofar as yoga.  While I am always grateful for the small, group classes I teach out of my house, the private yoga biz, i.e,. one-on-one yoga/yoga therapy, sucks.  The highlight this summer was helping one of the top-ranked college hurdlers in the country rehab from hip surgeries.  Her mother found me online and the funny thing is she lives down the street from me.  Small world.  I worked with her twice a week and it was a joy.  But a consistent income from that?  A student increase in my small group classes?  No.  This is the first  year I’ve spent more money on my yoga biz (such as trainings) than I brought in.  Someone tell me again how popular and mainstream yoga is.

After 10 years of teaching I seriously considered quitting this year.  “My yoga” is not popular because I am not mainstream, status quo.  Because I have been burned by yoga studio owners and am tired of all the drama yoga studios generate — and I will add IN MY AREA, but from what I hear, it’s not that different in other parts of the country and sometimes even worse — I no longer teach weekly classes in studios.  The style of yoga that I teach is not about kicking your ass and making you sweat, and if you bust out a handstand when I say “child’s pose”, I’m going to call you out.  I love traveling to teach workshops but as for teaching weekly classes, no thanks.  I suppose I would return to teaching classes depending on the studio AND the owner, but I have to say that even thinking about it brings up a physical sensation that is similar to PTSD.  Seriously.  That’s how badly I’ve been abused treated.  Don’t even get me started about the “yoga community.”

I became certified in teaching Trauma Sensitive Yoga this year, a training that I consider one of the most influential that I’ve ever taken, but getting people such as counselors to even consider it has been like pulling teeth.  As I was with eco-garden design with native plants (I am also a garden designer and a certified horticulturist) and thai yoga massage, I am once again ahead of my time.Then I decided to to finally conduct a teacher training and went through the Yoga Alliance rigamaroll.  Instead of being energized about finally being annointed an EXPERIENCED REGISTERED YOGA TEACHER, I became even more depressed.  Finally seeing all my training hours in 10 years — literally 1000 hours — written down in black and white made me think, “what the fuck am I doing?  why bother?”   All my training doesn’t mean shit to a tree, as Grace Slick sang, when it seems that all people care about is getting their ass kicked in a hot yoga class.  It is a rare person in my area of far west suburban Chicago who is willing to pay for private yoga classes — and I live in an upper middle class area.

And please don’t tell me that I am “manifesting” this.  If I hear one more person tell me to “let go of negativity”, “be open”, “throw it out to the Universe”, or any other New Age Secret clap-trap, I’m going NeNe Leakes on your asana.

The fact of the matter is that when one is passionate about  yoga as a path of transformation and all you get are closed doors and little interest, it is very discouraging and frustrating.  My private students understand my frustration and are extremely supportive.  They know I need to go to India because it is there that I am renourished, it is there that real yoga renews me.  Yeah, you read it: “real yoga” — and I don’t care if you don’t like the phrase because I am sick of the political correctness of modern yoga, yoga blogs included.

In all this mix, when I was at my lowest, once again someone whom I’ve never met lifts me up.  A new blog reader — yoga student for 20 years, teacher for 5 — emailed me and told me her story of frustration and indeed, hate, of yoga as it is now taught.  She told me that my writing here is an answer to a prayer and she wanted to express her gratitude.  She told me how her yoga mojo vanished and she entered the dark night of the yoga soul….as what is happening with me now.  She wrote:

“…living in the land of the yoga OBscene, southern california, made matters much worse.  i began to loathe and even used the word hate in re: to yoga.  i officially declared DIVORCE in june of this year.  what had it become?  where are “they” taking it?  who are all these 200 hr YA stamped people who know nothing about, nor care less about, living the yoga??  a friend suggested i stop cursing the dark and light a candle. and lindasyoga.com arrived.”

Her email overwhelmed me.  I started to cry.  Maybe I am doing something right, I thought, if my writing about yoga can have such an effect.  Aside from my regular weekly students, the support that I receive from those near is practically nil.  Almost all the support in what I do comes from people whom I’ve never met, YOU, out there, globally.  And that amazes me.

This August I finally met a long-time blog reader from Texas and we are collaborating on a yoga project that is going to rock the yoga world, IMO.  I got an email from another reader with a yoga contact in Nova Scotia.  I have another contact for yoga in Cuba.

So should I be depressed that hardly anyone gets me where I live?  Don’t we all want validation, approval from our community, isn’t that human nature?  After I read the above email to my husband, even he said that my home is OUT THERE, NOT HERE.  I just reside here, but I live OUT THERE.  As my friend in Texas reminded me, a prophet is never appreciated in their homeland.  Not that I consider myself a prophet, but I get the analogy.  A long ago private student told me that it’s hard being a pioneer because the pioneers get the arrows shot up the ass.

Ouch.  That’s what that is.

yoga in OMerika: what $95 buys

The Official Blessing

$95 bought that logo.

I don’t consider my posts about the Yoga Alliance as rants, although I am sure some would consider them as such.  I consider them a public yoga education.  I am reporting my own experience in order to help any newbie teachers make their own informed decisions.

I gave my reasons in this post as to why I renewed my registration with Yoga Alliance.  $150 later I am now officially an E-RYT 200 — “EXPERIENCED REGISTERED YOGA TEACHER.”  I know, I was such a hack before YA’s official blessing.  I can now conduct a 200 hour yoga teacher training after YA’s approval of my curriculum, of course.  After paying the requisite fees.  Of course.

I decided to upload more teaching and training hours to the YA site, so I pulled out my four inch thick folder with my teaching and training records.  I was amazed to finally see it all laid out in black and white, all the time and effort I’ve put into my yoga teaching since 2004 when I first registered with YA  — over 2000 hours of teaching and almost 900 hours of advanced training.  I did not even count each and every three hour workshop.

I thought what the hell, I will try to upgrade to E RYT 500 – 500 because one day I might want to conduct a 500 hour training.  The upgrade is another $95.  Piece of cake with all my hours, right?  Wrong, wrong, and WRONG.   This is the email I received from YA:

“In order to upgrade to an ERYT 500, one must first meet the criteria for an RYT 500, having graduated either from a YA registered advanced 300 or complete 500 hour program  (please see standards below).  

RYT 500-
A yoga teacher with a minimum of 500 hours of yoga teacher training, either:

o   500 hours from one school, or
o   200 hours plus 300 hours of advanced training from one school (training that requires participants to have a 200-Hour certification.

As you have not completed a YA registered training, but  have spent many hours of in depth study with Sri Desikachar, I would recommend that you complete the “graduate of a non-registered school”  application (attached) for your RYT 500 upgrade.”

Out of my 800+ hours of training, my three intensives at KYM plus private classes with Desikachar’s senior teachers total 300 hours of advanced training.  Apparently the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram is NOT a registered school with YA.  AS IF that would stop me from studying there.

I am sure Sri Desikachar stays up at night wondering whether the school he started to honor his father, the Source Scholar of Yoga, the Grandfather of Modern Yoga, should be registered with the Yoga Alliance.  Please.  Really?  The YA can’t cut KYM any slack?  Let them “grandfather” in as a registered school?  Seriously?  By the way, someone who certifies you in “Goddess Yoga” IS an approved school of the YA.  Right.

Here’s the kicker:  in order for me to upgrade to a 500 level teacher, the “graduate of a non-registered school” application costs $150 together with the $95 to upgrade to E RYT 500.  So another $245 over and above the $150 I already paid to renew and upgrade to E RYT 200.

Oh my Goddess, I am in the wrong business.  I need to be in the certification game.  And can someone tell me why YA is officially a non-profit organization?  I said “no thanks.”  I don’t want to pay another dime to YA especially considering all that dough is a lot of rupees in India which I will need starting in January.  But eventually I will have to pay it if I ever want to conduct a 500 hour level training in the future.  AS IF I could not do that RIGHT NOW.

Of course I can conduct teacher trainings without being “Yoga Alliance approved” but how realistic is that?  With the current mentality of yoga in OMerika, would anyone sign up for my trainings?  I doubt it, because even the most staunchly anti-YA teachers (Ganga White – a must read; Lex Gillan; and my teacher in Chicago, to name a few), ALL ended up registering their schools with YA.  Because that is what people look for.

So here is my question, good readers:  the curriculum being equal, if you had a choice of a non-YA approved 200 hour teacher training with someone like me, with all my hours, 5 times at KYM OR with someone who is YA approved but does not have the hours of training and teaching experience that I have, which would you pick?

And I will say this before anyone else does:  yes, I know hours of training does not automatically make one a “good” teacher, the same way inexperience does not automatically make one a “bad” teacher.  There are always variables.

Yoga in OMerika.  Travel at your own risk.

in my humble opinion

Sergio DiazGranados of the Yoga Teacher Training website contacted me for an interview when I wrote the “babies teaching babies” post.  He also published an interview with David Frawley so I am in good company!  Maybe my thoughts will benefit someone out there so I am posting a few of my pithier answers.  You can read the entire interview on his site next week.

Sergio also has an opportunity for someone to win a yoga scholarship for a 2012 teacher training program by teachers such as Rod Stryker, Rolf Gates, Shiva Rea, or David Swenson, among others.  The deadline to apply is November 18.

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What was your biggest challenge during your teacher training process?
I think my biggest challenge during my first yoga teacher training was doing chatarunga dandasana!  I had never done that pose in a beginning yoga class and I felt intimidated by the younger students (I did not become a certified teacher until I was 48) who could do it without thinking twice.  Fortunately I’ve come to realize that real yoga is not about the asana!

What has been your biggest challenge in continuing your craft as a yoga teacher?
I think my biggest challenge is teaching the style of yoga that I teach.  I must qualify this by saying “in my geographic area.”  My yoga is informed by my spiritually which is Buddhism and by my vipassana practice.  The yoga that I teach is grounded in the Krishnamacharya lineage and mindfulness practice.  My style of yoga is not what you would call mainstream.  I call it the Yoga of Awareness and many times it seems that people are only interested in yoga as a workout.  My yoga will make you sweat but not because you’re doing 100 chatarungas.  It’s one of the reasons I no longer teach in yoga studios, only privately.  I let students find me.

What do you think makes a good yoga teacher?
Someone who is always a student first and a teacher second, no matter how long they have been teaching.  Authenticity.  Walking your yoga talk even if you stumble.  And if you stumble, then owning it instead of making excuses.   Practicing what you preach, especially meditation.  Compassion and empathy.  Constant self-inquiry.  The ability to say “I don’t know” if a student asks you a question instead of letting your ego answer for you.  And the ability to laugh and not take yourself too seriously.  We are always laughing in my classes.  I tell my students that laughter is the best pranayama!  Notice I said nothing about asana — because asana knowledge is a given!

Do you feel that teachers are doing a disservice to the Yoga community if they only focus on the physical asana practice and leave out the spiritual component?
I used to think it was a disservice, but I now believe “you do your yoga and I’ll do mine.”   I only know what’s right for me and most of the students to whom I teach have been with me since Day One of my teaching, 10 years ago.  If someone comes to me and doesn’t like what I teach, that’s fine, they will find a teacher better suited for them.  I would not exactly call it a “disservice” because any type of movement is beneficial for the body.  

But I also do not believe what many teachers believe that everyone will come to know what “real yoga” is, i.e., with the spiritual components, if they practice long enough.  Yes, of course that happens with some people, but I don’t believe that’s true for everyone who starts out with yoga as a purely physical practice because not everyone is on the same path.  That is like saying everyone who runs a marathon is on equal footing.  They’re not.  There will always be someone in front, running with you, and behind you.  Again, everyone is different and we all have our karma to work through in this lifetime.

For me, yoga is ALWAYS asana + pranayama + meditation and yoga always was a spiritual practice.  I’ve heard Desikachar say that yoga contains X, Y and Z, and anything else is acrobatics.  The bottom line is that you can call a dog a cat all you want to, but that doesn’t make it a cat.  Calling your morning stretches yoga without having X, Y and Z doesn’t make it yoga.  Would you still call it a chocolate cake if you left out the chocolate?  It might still be good, but it’s not a chocolate cake.

What is Yoga to you?
Yoga to me is about personal transformation.  You can only change the world by changing yourself, a day, a moment, a breath at a time.  Through our inner work and self-inquiry, yoga teaches us to treat each moment as brand new, to be present with whatever arises in our lives, pleasant and unpleasant.  It teaches us to observe and listen to the inner voice that bubbles up that is our connection to whatever it is we believe to be greater outside ourselves.

WITH METTA…..