what’s the line between ego and service?

Sometimes readers email me to shoot the breeze about yoga stuff.  Last week a reader and Facebook friend wondered about this (he gave me permission to quote him.)  He said:

“I had a conversation with my mentor…whom has been my connection to the Krishnamacharya lineage.  We were discussing the effects of traditional systems vs. Innovative systems, most specifically the relationship between Ego and a teacher’s “need” to innovate.

Obviously one of the key features of Krishnamacharya’s teaching was the importance of adaptation of the practice to suit the individual…..and American teachers seem to be very good at adaptation….but that adaptation seems to be more about their own ego and “self value” in creating the newest and most “effective/clever” system of Yoga.

I’m not really asking a direct question, but more your thoughts, maybe you’ve written something of similar subject?  I figure your being connected with KYM, this is something you guys discussed?”

Interesting discussion!

I actually have never written about this and in all my times at KYM, this topic has never come up.  If I understand the question correctly, it is:  where does the ego and service, so to speak, separate?

I can’t comment on what other teachers “invent”….Anusara, Forrest yoga, etc.  Does it come out of their ego on wanting to control or change things?  I don’t know.  Someone once said that I created METTA YOGA.  Did I?  I don’t know.  I say that Metta Yoga is the Yoga of Awareness, i.e. being awake to reality, all the good and especially the bad, our shadows.  All I know is what informs my practice:  trainings at KYM, with Srivatsa Ramaswami, Buddhism.  “My” yoga is all about the breath, meeting people where they are (both aspects being totally KYM), being aware of what is happening now (the Buddhadharma.)  Yoga, for me, must contain pranayama and meditation for it to be called Yoga, but that’s me, that’s the lineage in which I study.  Am I going to totally spin the teachings to suit my own purpose?  No, because to me Real Yoga (and I don’t care if that phrase upsets people) is about Transformation and Healing.

We all know what happened with John Friend and Anusara…karma?  And people applaud Ana Forrest’s “new” way of teaching — isn’t it supposed to be a bit more therapeutic now?  I’ve been teaching that way for years, i.e., about watching what comes up, digging down to face your demons.  In my opinion, she did not come up with anything brand new.

No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”  When I was in India this year, A.G. Mohan told us that Indians did not come to see Krishnamacharya for “yoga for fitness”, i.e., purely asana practice.  They lined up literally down the street to see him for yoga for depression, bad backs, and other conditions.  He did not teach “yoga therapy”, IT WAS JUST YOGA.  So did he change what he learned from his gurus?  Of course he met the individuals where they were, we know that he taught Iyengar, Jois, and his son Desikachar differently because that’s how those styles evolved.  But did he make up something that was dramatically different from what his gurus taught him?  I don’t think so.

All I know is that I must meet people where they are and as Desikachar has said, whatever happens, happens.

What I do know is that in the end, it’s all the same, really.  What did Friend create?  Anusara is Iyengar inspired and he put a new spin on things, his whole tantra-esque thinking is nothing new, he just made it sexy palatable for Westerners.

After I responded, the reader went on to say that “the direction American Yoga is moving in is pretty darn interesting.  In fact, over contemplating your email, I started wondering what drives most Western yoga students to become “teachers” in the first place, let alone trying to reinvent their “own” system.   Part of it, I’m assuming, is the ego wanting this seemingly luxurious life of being a yoga teacher……because let’s face it, the way most Americans work their lives away pretty much sucks!  The American Dream has essentially become Corporate Slavery.

I think Americans turn to Yoga because it almost seems like a way out.   In a way, it’s a very distorted approach to Moksha!
 
The other reason I think students are going the “teacher” route is that it kind of offers students a way of deepening their own Yoga practice/sadhana — [quoting his teacher] “teaching is a fierce sadhana”.   Ain’t that the f%$#ing truth!  I think American yoga students do want and are hungry for more than just “asana classes” so why not go through a teacher training course!  They are always also described as an “opportunity to deepen one’s own practice”!  I think the American yoga community is maturing enough as a whole to realize there has to be something more to yoga than just asana…..hence so much innovation and crazy weird shit happening in yoga classes.
 

As bad a rep as the Guru principle has received in the US, I think it’s a missing element.  The idea that a teacher has done the long hard journey and come back to help others along.  Not to say they are totally missing….but I think there is a lack of very experienced teachers amongst the yoga population here.  And the ones that are around are too busy traveling around teaching workshops to thousands of students around the country rather than working closely with a student for a long long time!”

I absolutely agree that the the missing piece is having a Guru or at least a long-term relationship with one teacher which I kinda sorta wrote about here:   http://lindasyoga.com/2012/03/29/whos-afraid-of-the-big-bad-guru/

As for everyone doing teacher trainings, I personally think there are TOO MANY teacher trainings.  It feeds into what I wrote about babies teaching babies….http://lindasyoga.com/2011/08/03/babies-teaching-babies/ — which ironically has a video of John Friend!  Hey, who knew, right?  ;)

As for yoga teacher trainings helping someone to “deepen” their own practice….really?  In what way?  Always?  For everyone?  I tell my students that if their path is the length and width of their yoga mat, that ain’t much of a path.   How are you treating people, what are you saying to people?  “Deepening your practice” is a loaded phrase.

I believe that teacher trainers do a disservice in taking everyone into their training, like those who have been doing yoga for a month.  Uh, no.  If I did my own training my requirement would be one year of solid yoga practice, at least once a week.  I am damn old school.  I was a student for 7 years before I became a teacher, not 7 weeks.

Another question to ask is, is yoga teaching a job or a way of life?  I know what it is for me.  I don’t care anymore about “success”, I just feel blessed to teach the students who seek me out in my home shala.   I did not want to come back from India this year, I wanted to stay in India and study study study.  On that false merit of prestige and “success” as a teacher:

“What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

[…]

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

[…]

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

1st Yogathon for Victims of Domestic Violence

My long-time readers know that I have taught yoga and meditation at a domestic violence shelter as a volunteer since 2004.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month so I have always tried to do a yoga fundraiser for the shelter.  Many of you also know that I no longer teach at yoga studios so I have not been able to do this fundraiser for a while due to lack of a space.  This year the director of the dance studio where I do Nia has generously offered her studio so I am back on track.

Getting local newspapers to take any interest in this has been close to impossible.  In fact, getting ANY local people to take any interest in this is close to impossible.

So I am going global and I’m asking for money.  Big money….because I want to start a consistent trauma sensitive yoga program at the shelter.  If yoga bloggers can ask their readers for money to fund their teacher trainings or travels to yoga fests, I can also ask for some do-re-me.  The money does not even have to go to me, it can go directly to the shelter to be specifically dedicated for a yoga program.

I am looking for socially-minded corporate sponsors, whether in Illinois or anywhere in the world, to help fund my proposed Trauma Sensitive Mind-Body Program.  I study yoga therapy in India; I’m certified in Trauma Sensitive Yoga….I got the goods, people!  All my yoga tools are for the women at the shelter.

My TSMB program will provide structured yoga sessions for domestic violence survivors to give them tools to address their habituated patterns and symptoms that lead to relapse into the cycle of trauma.  I will offer a research-based yoga curriculum based on the ways in which mind-body practices facilitate traumatic stress recovery.

The shelter depends on grants and donations and the money goes toward keeping the doors open for the women.  After 7 years of teaching only once a month, I finally sat down last month with the director to talk about starting a dedicated weekly or twice weekly yoga program.  She said they would look for grants for money to fund my teaching but it will be a long process.  I said that I was patient because after all, I’ve already been teaching there for 7 years.

I am not a non-profit organization (although I am looking into re-organizing as a “low profit” corporation, a new business entity) so I can not apply for grants on my own.  Once I tried Kickstarter to help raise money, but they refused my project because it had nothing to do with the arts, it was not “creative” enough.  Even the local yoga magazine has refused stories in spite of two of my students contacting the editor over the years.  I’m calling you out, Yoga Chicago.

I admit it — I get a bit down when I see others get featured for their karma yoga projects.  Not jealous because they are doing valuable work…just depressed because I’ve been doing the same thing for a long time and maybe if I got some news flash, some local money would flow into the shelter to start a program.  Or maybe just some help or advice.  Whatever.  I just keep plugging away.

As naive as this sounds, I am looking for a benefactor for this program.  A sugar daddy.  Or mommy.  An anonymous benefactor or maybe a rich person can leave us some money in their will.  Another Oprah.  Hey, Oprah!  You had Rodney Yee on your show years ago and talked about how wonderful yoga is…so help a sister out, will  ya?

Blech.  I’m just tired of banging my head against the wall.  It’s very tiring when you’re the only one doing this without any emotional support.

I know a lot people from all over the world read this blog.  If you can help us out, contact me.

But in the meantime, if you are in the Fox Valley area of far west suburban Chicago, consider attending the First Yogathon for Victims of Domestic Violence.  Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.

Help some sisters out.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

I am a survivor.

That is why my seva is at my local domestic violence shelter for almost 10 years now. It is my favorite class to teach because my students are also my teachers. Someone you know is a survivor of domestic violence, sexual assault, or both.

Consider these facts –

Domestic Violence:

Half of all married women in the United States are physically abused at some time in their marriage.

One in 10 teenagers will be involved in a violent dating relationship before graduating from high school.

A woman is beaten every 10 seconds.

Domestic violence is the most under-reported crime in the US.

Domestic violence cuts across all socioeconomic backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, or level of education.

Battering often occurs during pregnancy.

10 women a day die at the hands of their husbands or partners.

Every five years the number of women in the US who die at the hands of their partners is equal to the number of males who died in the Viet Nam War.

Abused women comprise 20% of all women presenting injuries at hospital emergency rooms.

Sexual Assault:

Every 5 minutes a woman is raped.

One-third of all rapes occur in a woman’s home.

Rape itself is a violent act, but 85% of all rapes are accompanied by more violence or the threat of violence.

Only 7% of sexually assaulted women report rape. This makes the actual number of rapes in the US as high as 2 million a year.

One in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually assaulted or abused before age 18.

In a Cornell University questionnaire, 92% of the respondents listed sexual harassment as a serious problem. 70% had personally experienced some form of harassment.

American women are 8 times more likely to be raped than European women and 26 times more likely than Japanese women.

One third of the sexual assault program clients at the shelter where I teach are children between the ages of 3-13; 50% of these clients are boys between the ages of 3-10.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Instead of wearing a purple ribbon, find a DV shelter in your community and do you seva. Walk your yoga talk for these women and you will be repaid 10 times over. Last night one of the women brought her little boy and he got on my mat and started teaching with me. Priceless.

Karma yoga = yoga love.

Karma yoga = peace.

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.

seva is sexy

“Yoga is about GIVING. Not taking. That’s how I get my calm and my sexy. I don’t need no special book and unrealistic promises to deliver that.”

Those words are from Svasti’s great blog “Body image issues, yoga & Tara Stiles is a sell-out” that was in response to Stiles’ atrocious ad for her new book (I am loathe to give it any more publicity.) The amazing and heart-felt comments from readers on my blog about it make me think that a yoga revolution is in the air. At least I hope so.

What I found so appalling in Stiles’ ad was the language: “banish belly fat, FAST”; “a YOGA-SLIM body in just 15 MINUTES A DAY!”; “size 8 to a size double 00!”; “combat bra fat with one easy move.” This one was the kicker: “Reshape your body. Learn a fabulous new way to balance WIDER-THAN-DESIRED HIPS.”

Uh, Tara, don’t you think a little thing called BONE STRUCTURE might have something to do with that? How is feeding into women’s insecurities about their hips in any way “yogic”? How about preaching acceptance about those “wider than desired” hips instead of trying to change something that is impossible to change because of BONE STRUCTURE?

I am still reeling from the possibility of bra fat. With homeless children on the street, genocide, floods in Pakistan, and starving people all over the world, now I have to worry about my back fat. Holy Shiva, what’s a grrl to do?

The ad has nothing to do with yoga and has everything to do with what is wrong with with, well, everything that is wrong in this culture. Everything has to work fast — “15 minutes” — and if it doesn’t we move on to the next best thing because our brains are no longer wired to stay with anything longer. We have the attention spans of flies, just look at some children.

I remember what Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote in Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. He said that ADD and ADHD are not the problems of children where the only solution is to medicate them with potentially harmful drugs; he believes that ADD and ADHD are signs of a dysfunctional family unit. In other words, YOU HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE-STYLE.

And that is what weight loss is all about. It’s not about “210 proven yoga moves” you can do in 15 minutes. I should know because I used to weigh about 200 pounds in the late 1970s. It was a life-style change. And because I used to weigh that much is why I can comment on bullshit ads that promise the impossible.

Personally I think that every dime Tara Stiles makes off the book should be donated to a place that helps young women with eating disorders.


“You may not be able to change the world, but at least you can embarrass the guilty.” — Jessica Mitford

How does a “yoga” book that promises results in just 15 minutes a day speak to the fact that yoga is a life-long process of transformation, 24/7? A process where the results are seen in months and years and not minutes. You operate on faith because there are no guarantees.

As I said in my previous blog, I am so over the excuse of how all these so-called “yoga” books or DVDs are just about “bringing yoga to the people, it’s all good, so don’t be a hater.” If you want to bring yoga to the people then teach in a prison or a homeless or domestic violence shelter year after year, don’t write a book about how to get rid of your bra fat. Now I am back to my post title.

Like Svasti, I get my calm and sexy from seva which is karma yoga in a domestic violence shelter. It’s true the women ask me about losing their belly fat from their pregnancies — there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good and feeling healthy and sexy. But I can assure you that they care more about ridding themselves of emotional demons and nightmares. The classes are pure joy and joy is big-time sexy. I’ll be getting a double dose of sexy because after about 10 years I’ve been asked to teach twice a month.

Every class is wonderful but last week was more so than usual. I did not teach a traditional yoga class but used movement in general as a stress reliever — we jumped and gyrated and shook those wider than desired hips. I had them do Lion’s Breath which they really got into after I told them how lionesses hunt and feed and defend their children while the lion sleeps all day. They could identify with that….and you’ve never heard louder roars.

I tell them that they are my teachers, these poor Hispanic women who own no yoga mats, no Lululemon pants, and come to my class after standing all day at factory jobs. Many of them do not have the luxury of even 15 minutes a day for themselves. My 90 minute class once a month may be the only time they have for themselves. Do you really think they care about bra fat?

After our movement I did yoga nidra with them. Some started crying afterward because of the effect it had on them. One woman was there for the first time and after class she was speechless for more than a few moments because the effect was so profound. When she could speak she asked the group leader if she could talk with me any time she felt bad. The yoga had created trust. The group leader translated and I had to tell her that while I understand Spanish, I am no longer fluent in speaking it so I could not answer her, but if she would like a private yoga therapy session with the group leader translating, I would be happy to do it for free.

Then I felt the shift. Sometimes psychic shifts are so potent that you feel them physically and suddenly everything falls into place. The verification that what I have done for almost 10 years is my true path. It was a physical confirmation. No more second guessing.

My path is no longer teaching in studios, it is about truly bringing yoga and meditation to the people. I have plans in the back of my brain and all things happen when they are ready to happen. My yoga therapy training in India next year will be the icing on the cake and my decision to pursue a masters in transpersonal psychology never felt so right. It’s all going to meld together and it will take longer than 15 minutes.

Damn, I’m sexy.

addthis_pub = ‘yogagal60510′;

women helping women

I have recently learned about the organization Women for Women International. Women for Women International “provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency, thereby promoting viable civil societies.” It is a Four Star Charity as rated by Charity Navigator. From their website:

“From Victim to Survivor…to Active Citizen

Women for Women International mobilizes women to change their lives by bringing a holistic approach to addressing the unique needs of women in conflict and post-conflict environments.

We begin by working with women who may have lost everything in conflict and often have nowhere else to turn. Participation in our one-year program launches women on a journey from victim to survivor to active citizen. We identify services to support graduates of the program as they continue to strive for greater social, economic and political participation in their communities.

As each woman engages in a multi-phase process of recovery and rehabilitation, she opens a window of opportunity presented by the end of conflict to help improve the rights, freedoms and status of women in her country. As women who go through our program assume leadership positions in their villages, actively participate in the reconstruction of their communities, build civil society, start businesses, train other women and serve as role models, they become active citizens who can help to establish lasting peace and stability.

Women begin in our Sponsorship Program where direct financial aid from a sponsor helps them deal with the immediate effects of war and conflict such as lack of food, water, medicine and other necessities. Exchanging letters with sponsors provides women with an emotional lifeline and a chance to tell their stories —maybe for the first time. As their situations begin to stabilize, women in our program begin building a foundation for their lives as survivors.

While continuing to receive sponsorship support, women embark on the next leg of the journey and participate in the Renewing Women’s Life Skills Program that provides them with rights awareness, leadership education and vocational and technical skills training. Women build upon existing skills and learn new ones in order to regain their strength, stability and stature on the path to becoming active citizens.

Women for Women International believes that establishing a means to earn a sustainable living is critical to being fully active in the life of a family, community and country. To help women transform their new skills into financial independence and sustainability, we offer job skills trainings to strengthen women’s existing skills and to introduce new skills in traditional and non-traditional fields so women can access future employment opportunities.

Building on the skills training program, we offer comprehensive business services designed to help women start and manage their own micro-enterprises. We give them access to capital and operate microcredit programs in Afghanistan and Bosnia and Herzegovina with an overall repayment rate of 98 percent. We give women access to markets by facilitating product sales through outside retailers and our online Virtual Bazaar. We provide expertise such as product design, production assistance and business development workshops. We also help women form micro-enterprises such as production facilities and cooperative stores to sell the goods women produce.”

Helping the women of a country helps the children. Saving a woman saves everyone.

I learned about Women for Women International through my teacher, Sarah Powers. She and two other yoginis have started Metta Journeys and their inaugural trip to Rwanda will benefit Women for Women International.

I already sponsor a Sri Lankan girl through my Theravadan teacher’s organization, but when I return from India in January I will sign up to sponsor an Iraqi woman through Women for Women International. I encourage every woman who reads this blog who is outraged by the war in Iraq, and every woman blogger who has written about their outrage, to sign up to sponsor an Iraqi woman. I would also encourage you to pass along the WFWI link to all interested parties. Sisterhood is powerful, ladies.

Listen to Alice Walker’s powerful and moving words in the video and check out WFWI’s website. It is another example of thinking globally, believing in the collective human consciousness, and seva.

peace
shanti
salaam aleikum
so shall it be

Seva Cafe: love all, serve all

From YouTube:

Volunteer Anjali Desai explains the vision behind Seva Cafe, a pay-it-forward restaurant in Ahmedabad, India, where each patron makes a donation toward the next person’s meal. Devoted to the principle of “think globally, act locally,” Anjali describes how this communal experiment in giving reminds us that every individual act of goodwill resounds in the collective human consciousness.

I love this idea. “Think globally, act locally” has been my mantra for years and I think it’s a very easy thing to forget as we rush around in our crazy lives. It’s all about mindfulness, being in the present moment and knowing that our actions, however inconsequential, affect someone or something else. Interbeing, as Thich Nhat Hanh believes.

Would the world be in the shape that it’s in if we truly believed in a collective human consciousness? I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel a paradigm shift coming on.

paz yoga

“Paz” is Spanish for “peace”. “Peace yoga” sounds like a beautiful concept to me, and in my humble opinion, what yoga is really all about. Yoga is about peace, healing, transformation. I won’t get into the differences between “health club yoga” and “traditional yoga”, because I can assure you that one group of students I have could not care less. They don’t come to class wearing $90 yoga pants, or have leather yoga mat bags, or wear chakra balancing anklets. In fact, they don’t even own yoga mats and could not tell you where to buy them. But they are my favorite yoga students because they totally understand what yoga is really all about and they all got it on the first night of class.

My karma yoga at a domestic violence shelter. I teach once a month to the Hispanic women’s support group. Some women understand English, others do not, so I have a translator for my direction. This in itself is interesting and amusing. We have lots of laughs when we go from la mesa to la gata then to pose of a nina to el perro.

These women are not shelter residents, but they come once a week for instruction or support regarding legal, financial, or job issues. They see me only once a month. But if you saw these women meditate, you would think I was leading a vipassana retreat. I do not have any other students who are more concentrated and focused in their goal for inner peace. When I teach my other classes and notice how some students lie in savasana with their eyes wide open staring at the ceiling, or tapping their fingers, or looking at their watches, I think about las yoginis mexicanas and their peaceful faces. It overwhelms me.

These women have been emotionally and physically abused. Some have left their men, some have not. All have children they are trying to protect. But when they come to see the “yoga lady”, they know that the 90 minutes is for them, and no one else. Maybe it’s the only hour and a half they’ve had for themselves all month. No one asks me about fancy poses or about getting a yoga butt. They ask me how to breath. They ask me about the Divine. I always tell them to go inside and find that true Self, the Self that they were born with that no one can ever take from them. The Self that no one can hit or call stupid or call a whore. One young women told me that she saw herself bathed in a white light, standing outside herself, watching herself meditate, and how happy and calm that made her feel. I told her how beautiful that was, that some people who meditate for years never see things like that, and she started to cry. Afterward the group leader told me that this woman has a little girl who keeps asking mommy why she goes back to daddy after daddy hurts her. I have not seen this woman since that night. I hope she is still bathed in the white light.

They ask me if yoga can help them with their aches and pains and whether yoga can diminish their big bellies left over from having children. They love doing Fire Series, but they love going inward to find that true Self even more. I tell them that my teachers in India will show me many ways to help them. I’ve explained to them how KYM teaches a theraputic yoga style, and that when I return I will show them everything. They’ve told me, please come back from India, we want the yoga lady here, because after class we feel happy. Now it’s time for me to cry.

Yes, I will come back to show them what I’ve learned, because I have been where they are now. Paz yoga, healing, and transformation, por mis yoginis mexicanas.

namaste