Me and Anne Lamott: Happy Birthday to Me

I officially enter Yoga Cronedom next weekend.  This Ageless Hippie Chick — who was not supposed to see the age of 17 because I tried to kill myself when I was 16 — hits the big 6-0.  What a long, strange trip it’s been, and I’m not even talking about the yoga.  I am grateful for every damn thing that has come my way, good and bad.

When I saw this Anne Lamott quote on someone’s Facebook page, it resonated with me.  Apparently everyone has read Anne Lamott except me so I looked her up.  The blurb on her agent’s page says that “she writes about what most of us don’t like to think about” and that she “tells her stories with honesty, compassion and a pureness of voice.”   I thought, hmmmm…interesting, people used to say that about me and my yoga rants and musings, I should check her out.

So I decided to take some of her lines and do my own spin on my upcoming birthday.

AL: “This is the last Saturday of my fifties. The needle isn’t moving to the left or to the right. I don’t feel or look 60. I don’t feel any age. I have a near-perfect life.  However, I grew up on tennis courts and beaches in California during the sixties, where we put baby oil on our skin to deepen the tan, and we got hundreds of sunburns. So maybe that was not ideal. I drank a lot and took a lot of drugs and smoked two packs of Camels (unfiltered) a day until I was 32….  My heart is not any age. It is a baby, an elder, a dog, a cat, divine.  My feet, however, frequently hurt.”

Next weekend is the last weekend of my fifties.  I also do not look or feel 60 and I certainly don’t move like I am 60.  What is that supposed to look like anymore?  When I grew up in the ’60s when people hit 60 they looked damn old.  Most people don’t know I smoked for 30 years, less than a pack a day, and I gave it up just like that when I became a yoga teacher at 48.  When I was in my early 20s I weighed 200 pounds, another thing that no one believes.  I lost about 60 pounds when I was in my early 20s but I still see a 200 pound face in the mirror.  You want to talk about Yoga and Body Image?  Just ask me.

I also have a near-perfect life considering some of the things I’ve experienced:  child abuse, domestic violence, attempted suicide, sexual assault, a lot of drugs and rock n roll as they say (don’t you wonder who the hell “they” are?)

Like Lamott, my heart is not any age.  Oh yeah, it will stop pumping one of these days.  But I am an energy body and energy is neither created nor destroyed, I will morph into something else somewhere.  And it’s not my feet, but damn, I have a tweaky back sometimes.  

AL: “My great blessing is the capacity for radical silliness and self-care.”

My greatest blessing is surviving and radical self-care.  The older I get, the more powerful I become.  I have not even begun to reach my full potential.  When a lot of people my age are thinking about retirement, I feel like I am just getting started….funny, when I’ve been teaching for a dozen years now.

I always tell my students, “ask yourselves, if not now, when?”  But I’ve known too many women who put themselves last after everything else in their lives, behind husband, partner, children, even in this time of post-Women’s Liberation Movement.  

AL: “I’m pretty spaced out.” 

Over the years I’ve noticed many times how still my mind is, like a still pond.  Many people tell me their minds are rarely quiet in spite of being long time yoga practitioners and practicing meditation.  I catch myself on how often I am not thinking but standing in pure awareness, at least that is what I call it.  Maybe it is my mind observing itself and it sees emptiness, a clarity, and then when it notices the emptiness it yells “hey, where are the thoughts?!” and that’s when I get distracted.  

“The tranquil state of mind when it rests constantly upon the contemplation of the goal after having again and again detached itself from myriad sense objects through a process of continuous observation of their defects, is called Sama.” Vivekachudamani, Adi Shankara, 8th century.

AL: “Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I’d be all well by now.  Maybe I’m 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable.  …Spiritually, I have the sophistication of a bright ten year old. My motley crew and my pets are my life. They are why I believe so ferociously in God.”

During my last yoga therapy training we discussed the concept of equanimity.  Many believe that when we finally reach the ultimate state of equanimity we become like Ramana Maharshi where we can sit in meditation and allow the ants to bite us without reaction.  I thought about that after our discussion and thought that if I can not feel passion about something or experience compassionate rage then you can keep enlightenment. 

AL: “Forgiveness remains a challenge, as does letting go. When people say cheerfully, “Just let go and let God,” I still want to stab them in the head with a fork, like a baked potato.  This business of being a human being is infinitely more fraught than I was led to believe.”

I learned a long time ago that forgiveness is for me not for the one who treated me badly.  Forgiveness is to relieve my own suffering.

In the last 6 months I received confirmation via three DNA tests that I am Native American with Spanish and Southeastern European thrown in.  I grew up believing I was 50/50 German and Polish.  Surprise!  Not a drop of German and the Polish is iffy.  That is what I was always told.  My life was based on lies and deceptions.  Imagine finding that out when you are thisclose to 60. 

Anyone who can tell me the truth of my birth is dead.  I came up with three possible scenarios:  I was the product of an affair; my sister (who was 19 years older than me) was my mother because she got pregnant with me before she married when I was four and had given me to the people I thought were my parents but were really my grandparents; or, someone gave me away to the people who raised me because in the mid-1950s my parents would have been considered too old (41 and 48) for an official adoption.

Follow?

I had always intuited that I was something other than what I grew up believing.  A friend who also found out she is Native said that Native Americans have blood memory of their heritage — so that’s what that feeling was all these years.

Do you want to talk to me about forgiveness?  When I found out I am Native, I was ecstatic because I have always felt a kinship with anything Native American even as a young girl.  Then I sank into a morass of despair — it explained why I was treated the way I was until I moved out when I was 18.  It explained why my sister wanted nothing to do with me and rarely had any contact with me.  Then I became enraged at the lies and deceptions.  I created scenes in my mind that if I could go back in time to confront the liars and abusers I would destroy them.  But then I said….

JUST STOP.  

What difference does it make now, in this present moment?  Why should I create my own suffering over something that happened 60 years ago?  My life is NOW.  Not in the past, not in the future.  Just this, just here, just now.

I saw my astrologer yesterday and told her the story.  I asked, what if my birthday is not what is on my birth certificate since it was obviously altered.  No problem, I have the same akashic records of my birth that makes me ME.  The akasha is beyond any date on a calendar.

Then I began to think how truly lucky I am.  Because I have the power to create a new Me, at age 60  I shed my past like a snakeskin.  I am a blank slate and how many people can say that at my age?  Because my early life was not about integrity, I can now claim the integrity of my New Consciousness.  I separate myself from the betrayals that went before.  Maybe that is why people have branded me “fiercely authentic” and why my astrologer always told me I can not be anywhere near any thing or person is that is less than true.     

AL: “So we do what we can. Today, I will visit a cherished friend post surgery, and goof around with her kids. I will try to help one person stay clean and sober, just for today.  I will loudly celebrate my own sobriety, and also the fact that my writing has not been a total nightmare lately. I am going to go for a hike on these sore feet, and remember Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Charged, electrical with life’s beauty and light!  Wow.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

I have experienced things in 60 years that would have made a weaker person crazy or dead.

I facilitate personal transformations via Yoga and meditation.  I teach people how to breathe to save their lives.  I help them regain mobility or peace of mind.  I will never own a studio and I will never again teach to a large group of people unless someone invites me.  I do not see that happening in the foreseeable future because what I do and how I am is not everyone’s cup of chai.  I am too masala for many.  I am not the modern yoga status quo and I am happy now to stay in my little yoga cave.  But I am honored and humbled to be in a book with some famous yoga teachers….and then there’s me.

I do what I can every day to live the idea of “I will not die an unlived life.”  Or sometimes I do nothing at all.  I have always said that life is a vinyasa. 

I celebrate ME, my surviving, my ups and down of my entire life thus far because every day is a blessing.  I have become so detached from the identity of “yoga teacher” that sometimes it frightens me.  That’s because true freedom can be frightening.  Think about that one.  If I never taught another class I would be happy.

Because I am so much more.  I am everything that is contained in this Universe, good, bad, and indifferent.  I caught a glimpse of that as I did energy work on a student this week.  The Native American shaman that is buried in my DNA is raising her head.  At the risk of sounding foo-foo and woo-woo, those things that I disdain in the New Age scene, we are stardust.   

And I thank the Universe that I am capable of such Joy.

 

I’m not dead. Or, how the yoga rubber meets the road.

me in India, only half dead

only half dead in India, 2008

Miss me?

I used to be a prolific yoga blogger.  I used to be a well-known yoga blogger, once called a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere, and was even quoted in the New York Times during the Tara Stiles controversy.  But everything has its expiration date.

I got tired.  I got tired of writing about Yoga in OMerika because I thought, “what else can I write about?”  I read this excellent piece today and it addresses issues that I wrote about years ago.  Bottom line, same shit, different day.  Not much has changed since I started writing this blog in 2005, almost 10 years ago.  The funny thing is, you know how each generation thinks they’re original, like they’re the first ones to come up with an idea?  Kinda sorta how I feel when I read a yoga blog nowadays, like, been there, done that, you young whipper-snapper, ’cause back in my day….

It has also appeared for quite some time that the yoga blogosphere has become a tad cliquey, all rah rah, kiss kiss, pat each other on the back.  OK, a lot cliquey.  When I first started this blog the yoga blogosphere was a bit more outlaw-ish, the voices were of different tones, not so scholarly.  Not that there is anything wrong with scholarly (hey, I went to grad school), but I remember being called “anti-intellectual” by a well-known yoga blogger because I dared to question the overanalysis and didacticism.  I knew I was no longer in the top echelon of yoga bloggers (my tongue is firmly in cheek) when this post only received 5 comments where in the past I know it would have generated many more.  One has to be one of the Kool Kids now, someone who is Someone to continue to get your blog posts Facebooked, tweeted, or interviewed or asked to review books. You know what Groucho Marx said about being a member of a club.   Another photo of the latest celeb du jour walking into a yoga studio?  Really?

Over the past year I have had some major epiphanies that rocked my energy body.  Last March I dealt with two very problematic people on my yoga retreat in India who I realized later were my teachers.  Of course I did not realize it at the time because then I only wanted to kick their ungrateful asses into the Arabian Sea, but they taught me much about how to deal with people of their types so I thank them.  They were a lesson in how everyone can be your teacher and the more difficult ones more so.

I dealt with betrayal.  Lots and lots of meditation helped me with that one.  I am here to tell you that if someone fucks with you, just sit and meditate daily on their sorry ass until the vision of them no longer brings up feelings of attachment or aversion, until you can see them and feel neutrality.  It works and it’s wonderful.  Very freeing.  I learned to finally love myself completely.  Not a bad lesson to learn as I enter my 6th decade of this incarnation.

I dealt with trust issues I have with women and also (again) in my local yoga world.  The resolution to that is that I am damn fine with being alone and a loner.  Well, I was already, but I truly came into my own in 2013.  Probably because I finally owned what I do.  I’ve been teaching since 2002 and it took me all this time to realize that yes, I AM a damn good teacher, I am unique in what I do and fuck outside validation, I don’t need it.  My yoga is outside the box and I own the fact that what I offer is not found elsewhere.  I have studied with direct students of Krishnamacharya both here and in India and am damn proud of that.  Never mistake my confidence for arrogance.  Yes I do say I teach Real Yoga and don’t care if someone takes offense.  Mine is a bold statement and people like J.Brown who puts it out there when he says that he “seeks to change the dialog and direction of yoga practice in the west” inspire me.  You bet your asana I do the same in my little corner of the yoga world, one body at a time (“…you taught me more about Yoga in five minutes than anyone I’ve ever met in a yoga class, teacher or otherwise,” said a satisfied Yoga customer.)

I also finally came into my own as an energy worker.  That was a huge energetic shift for me in 2013, so much so the shift was also physical.  It is no coincidence that I learned I am part Native American (more on that below) in the same year I decided to make known the energy healing work I have practiced for over 10 years — because my work is akin to that of a Medicine Woman.  Energy healing is a deep, spiritual practice for me.  It feels natural.  I finally own that I am a facilitator of profound change.

I am happy to reside in my little yoga cave of my home studio with only two or three students in class.  If all my students suddenly disappeared, I am fine with that.  Bottom line, if I never taught another class in my life, I’m good.  The thought of never teaching again for whatever reason used to freak me out.  “Yoga teacher” used to be my identity but no longer.  I have peeled my onion layers down to the core.  Yoga is life, but Life is more than Yoga.  DING DING DING!  EPIPHANY TIME.  I am not This or That because I am so much more.

The biggest revelation of 2013 came to me in the form of genetic testing and discovering my true ancestry.  I grew up believing I was 50/50 German-Polish, but I also always intuited that I wasn’t.  I am part Native American, enough that I can self-identify as a Native American; unfortunately, a genetic test can not determine tribe.  Either I was the product of an affair or my sister was really my mother.  My nephew who is only 7 years younger is probably my half-brother.  How would you handle that if you found out in your late 50s that you were lied to about your heritage and parentage?

As for handling things, after planning my 8th trip to India (departure in 9 days) for yoga study, my yoga therapy course was cancelled just last week.  This affected my entire trip because my trips are a tax write-off — no yoga study, no tax write-off.  Plans I had made almost a year ago and reservations on planes and trains all had to be changed when I got the news.  I cancelled the last 7 weeks of my trip and I would have cancelled the entire trip but I would have lost too much money in airfare and other fees so my trip changed in one day from almost 3 months to one month.  Dharma 101: How Life Changes in a Second.

The day I received the news of the course cancellation I was more than a little freaked but by evening I was at peace.  A deep peace and I was surprised at how deep that peace was — because YOGA ISN’T REAL YOGA UNLESS IT HELPS YOU DEAL WITH HOW LIFE CAN CHANGE IN A SECOND.  

Knowing how I love India (in reality it’s a love-hate relationship), my friends thought I’d be more upset than I was about cutting my trip by more than half.  Nope, not really.  Because that’s where the yoga rubber hits the road.  What good is your yoga if you can’t deal effectively with life’s major and minor ups and downs?

As for Ma India Herself, if this upcoming trip is my last I am good with that.  Finally.  Because in the past the thought of never returning to India created such angst I would shake.  Even cry.  India is in my bones and always will be and each time I am there I know I am Home.  I know I will die there but just like Yoga Teacher became a piece of my identity, so did India.     DING DING DING!  EPIPHANY TIME.  I am not This or That because I am so much more.

Real Yoga sure as hell ain’t about the asana but I already knew that.  108 Sun Salutations or a sick arm balance would not have helped me when I learned that the woman I thought was my mother was probably really my grandmother.  Or maybe my sister is really my mother.  I will never know.  Made up yoga, as A. G. Mohan calls what passes for yoga nowadays, could never help me with that.

Real Yoga is so much more.  It’s Freedom.

life in these Yoga States (apologies to the Reader’s Digest)

WARNING: GUARANTEED TO PISS OFF SOMEBODY SOMEWHERE

yoga studio owner

There are many things in this world that make me go hmmm……and one of them is the way yoga teachers are treated.

My long-time readers know why I no longer teach weekly classes in studios and you can read my sorry stories here.    But over the years of writing this blog I’ve received emails from both teachers and students venting about things in their own little corners of the yoga world.   I’m a bit overwhelmed that people trust me enough to share their feelings so openly with me, someone they only know via this blog.

Of course there are good, thoughtful, and compassionate studio owners, the majority I’m sure.   Of course I have been treated well and fairly and I respect many studio owners and count them as friends.  It’s tough to be self-employed and run any business and I am sure owners have many complaints about teachers — I’ve heard owners’ stories about teachers not showing up to teach.  After more than a few years I have ventured into teaching a public class again not at a yoga studio but at a belly-dance studio and I love it because it’s a very different vibe.

But unfortunately in my experience and in the experience of those who write or tell me things, the ill treatment of teachers by owners is, let’s just say, something special.  Weird.  Puzzling.  Passive-aggressive.  Even diabolical sometimes.  Should the yoga biz be any different from the real world?  I’ll get to that.

I know a teacher who went to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram for private classes.  She shared what she learned in the asana classes with her students.  She told her students “this is what I learned in India” and she said her students loved the practices.  Well, all except for one student.   In the teacher’s words:

“Students were eager to learn and experience for themselves the KYM style of yoga.

They embraced it even though it had a different rhythm. Many said that it was simpler and they felt more responsible for their practice and found that they were able focus on their breath and breath as they repeated poses on their own.  A student from another teacher dropped into my class one day and didn’t like this different style and thus reported back to other students in her regular classes and ultimately the studio owner that they did not like the way I was teaching my class.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion and free to go to the class of their choosing with a teacher that they resonate with.  However, when this unconstructive, third hand feedback was shared with me by the studio owner there was an implication that what I was doing was wrong or bad or strange or something – just not preferred by her students.  OK, whatever.” **

From a Canadian yoga teacher:

“The studio owners came to me and asked me to change the style of yoga I was teaching as they were moving towards a branded style of yoga.  As a yoga teacher with 10 years experience and a specific training that involves pranayama and therapy in asana, I said I could probably change some things about my class (i.e., create a similar class that was a more challenging level of practice and make the class more of a flow class), but not change the focus on meditation in my class, the seated and focused pranayama at beginning and end, and the attention paid to mantra. 

This conversation was conducted over email and the owner’s  response was that my classes were not at threat, but that she would like me to attend her training sessions in order to teach her new style of yoga.  I told her I could not attend as they were half day workshops on Saturdays, I already taught two back-to-back classes on Saturdays, and that would mean I would be away from my family for 6-8 hours on Saturdays.

After this discussion my pay checks stop coming.  I did not get paid for 2.5 months by this studio.  I vocalized my disapproval in a series of professional emails.  On the cusp of the third month of not being paid for my three classes a week, I was finally paid and with this pay told I was no longer needed to teach at the studio.  They gave me two days notice.  They told me not to come back to the studio.  They told my students I left for personal reasons.  I later found out I was not the only teacher treated so poorly. 

The studio is a hot yoga studio with three locations.   I was told I was being let go because I had created a feeling of resistance in their peaceful studio space.  In fact, I had tried to comply to the studio owner’s wishes without compromising my own unique qualities as a teacher.   In the end, it was for the best that my relationship with this studio ended as my service was not best suited for the space.” **

Yes, we’re all human, we each have our foibles and shadow selves and crazy ass shit we deal with, but somehow, at least in my opinion, the yoga studio should be a little bit different from the usual shit in the corporate world or wherever a yoga teacher comes from.  Dare I say it, a “sacred” space?  A little kinder?  A calming respite from the usual shit we deal with on a daily basis?   Yamas, anyone?  If I wanted to be screamed at and treated like a peon, I’d still work for lawyers.  OK, my 20 years in the legal biz wasn’t THAT bad, but you get the idea.  Probably one of the reasons why the sadhus go live in caves in India.

In the first example, on another occasion the owner told the teacher that some people in her class did not like the 20 minutes of yin yoga she tried in her class.   What is the purpose of telling a teacher that students don’t like what you’re teaching?  Because the owner thinks the teacher should change her teaching style?  Or shouldn’t be teaching what she teaches at the studio?  Or maybe because the owner is fearful that students would like the teacher’s class more than hers so it’s a little passive-aggressive put down?  Is it a control thing?  I mean, unless the teacher is incompetent or injures people, but….seems just damn hurtful (spiteful?) to me and isn’t yoga supposed to be empowering for both students and teachers?  But, hell…what do I know?

As the teacher said, the comment was not constructive criticism, only that “someone doesn’t like what you teach.”  OK, fine, so those that don’t like won’t go to the teacher’s class.  But whatever happened to accepting what is offered to you and being grateful?  I have been in many classes and workshops over 15+ years of yoga-ing that I did not particularly care for but always took away a little something.  Teachings are like a bowl of rice — pick out the dirt and eat the rest.

In the second example, if the studio is switching their focus, that’s fine, a business owner is entitled to run their business as they see fit, but why the drama, the non-payment?  Too much drama is one of the reasons I no longer teach public group classes, too much Dramasana in the studios where I’ve taught.  It’s too exhausting and too much of an energy drain.   Soul sucking, in fact.

“The case of acro yoga: is it yoga or not?  What say you?”

The above question was asked by a Facebook friend (yoga teacher) on her Facebook page.

I asked the same question here and was blacklisted from teaching workshops at the brand new yoga studio in my town.

I know.  Hard to believe in this land of First Amendment rights.  I felt a little McCarthyized.   I’m waiting for the House Committee on Un-Yogic Activities to investigate me.

The thing was, I was scheduled to teach two weekend workshops last December about two weeks after the studio opened.  The owner never advertised my workshops and they were never listed on her website, which was new and which she said she had no control over.   So without adequate advertising, no one signed up (I had students who wanted to attend but the dates did not work for them and they kept asking me when it would be rescheduled.)  I was fine with no one signing up, we had talked about a new date, but I was a bit irked about the lack of advertising (I advertised on my own via my website, Facebook, word of mouth, and emails.)

The owner said she was going to reschedule me but I waited….and waited….and waited…and waited.  Sent her an email asking to set a new date.  No response and then I left for India.  When I was in India in February I emailed the owner once again about rescheduling.

Here’s what she said:  that “the day we had our phone discussion [about canceling my workshops] you took to your blog attacking studios offering acro yoga.”  That’s why she has not asked me back to the studio.

Uh, what?

I re-read the post (where I write about acro yoga in ONE paragraph) and nowhere do I “attack” any studio so much as question acro yoga in general — as any other yoga blogger commenting on the modern yoga scene might do.  I even asked friends to read it and asked for their opinions.  I received comments such as “beautifully stated”, “thought provoking”, and “grounding.”  As someone said, perception is everything in life.  Deepak Chopra says:  “There is no fixed physical reality, no single perception of the world, just numerous ways of interpreting world views as dictated by one’s nervous system and the specific environment of our planetary existence.”  I get it.  Yeah, me too.

I emailed her back and told her that I have been writing about yoga since 2005 and I don’t “attack” anyone (OK, maybe the Tara Stiles thing three years ago got heated.)  I said I was sorry if she felt attacked but it was her perception.  I said there are other yoga bloggers out there who are much more scathing about the modern yoga scene than I am.  I told her that I comment on the modern yoga scene as I see fit and have been doing so for a long time, much longer than she has been teaching.  I said I am infamous known for having a fierce voice in the yoga blogosphere and for “keeping it real.”  I said that if my blog is not everyone’s cup of chai, so be it, but if someone puts something out there about yoga and I have an opinion about it, I will write about it.

But apparently questioning something means that I “don’t think very highly of practices that aren’t in sync” with mine (her words.)  Today I read the excellent article “The Seduction of Spiritual Celebrity” where Derek Beres writes: that “the dismissal of critique in American spiritual communities is reminiscent of the anti-intellectual crusade that Richard Hofstadter warned about a half-century ago.”  It’s not so much anti-intellectualism, but certainly there is a political correctness in the modern American yoga scene that any criticism is seen as bad, negative, hateful, or that ubiquitous word, “un-yogic.”

C’mon now!  I have a friend who does Bikram yoga and I make fun of her all the time!  And I hate Iyengar yogis!  Those crazy astangis?  Fuhgeddaboudem!

Snark alert!  I’m kidding!

Oh well.  I’d rather take the chance on pissing somebody off than not questioning the status quo.  A good friend told me I was put on this Earth to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.  ;)

Ouch.

A wise writer wrote, “I have lost my polestar if I only spout platitudes.”

You can be the juiciest, ripest apple in the world and there’s gonna be someone who just doesn’t dig apples.

[**the teachers gave their permission to write about their stories here.]

Sex, Lies, and Yoga

survivor This is perhaps the most important and powerful post I have ever published in this blog.

And I didn’t write it.

I asked a friend and fellow yoga teacher to write not only about the topic of sex abuse in the modern yoga world, but also comment on how he feels the subject has been treated in the yoga blogosphere over the last year.   My friend requested anonymity and also being a trauma survivor, I honored his request.

His post may upset some and with good reason because this is a charged topic.  But the writer believes he has relayed it in a way that will not  cause more hurt to people who have already been hurt by these issues even if they don’t agree with him.

This is a long post so grab some coffee and a comfy chair, read and digest these words.  Then read it again.  And again.

Talk amongst yourselves.

_____________________________________________________________________

“SEX, LIES, AND YOGA”

It isn’t easy to write about the sex scandals that have plagued the yoga community in the last three years.  At least it isn’t if you or your friends have been involved in them.  But in recent discussions with a good friend on these matters, it struck me that much of the online and media discourse on the scandals serves more to create anger than to provide insight into the specific incidents and into the process and repercussions of abuse.  The language we use, the way we discuss these events is important because it is the only means to communicate what took place and how.  If done thoughtfully (and you don’t necessarily have to read this as “delicately”) then it can lead to (more) accurate accounts and meaningful discussion.  If done without regard for the power of language and an assessment of our emotional state, then discussion won’t likely be fruitful and may ultimately do more harm than good.

And so the idea of this piece was born.  Even though I have been a victim of abuse I don’t speak from a point of authority on abuse in general.  And despite being friends with some of the people involved in three of the scandals of the last three years, I can’t speak with authority on these scandals in particular.  Mine remains one point of view based on my experience and my interactions with the victims, perpetrators, and their friends and family.  But I offer a point of view that, at least as far as I’ve seen, has not been shared and is not typically shared when these things occur… a different way of seeing these problems, their players and the role of the community, whether or not it is involved in the discourse.

There is an element of vulnerability in these events that can be so overwhelming so as to make it feel deeply inappropriate to publicize the feelings, let alone the details.  You see, for most of those involved, these atrocities are not primarily about yoga, nor about the community, but rather about personal loss, failure, shame, and/or the betrayal of a friend, teacher, spouse or lover.  Their primary concern is not how to keep these things from happening again but dealing with the repercussions of the abuse and of its publicity.

They are facing spouses, families, children, friends and coworkers with details and implications of events that are tough to understand even as you are in the middle of them, perhaps especially if you are in the middle of them.  They face anxiety attacks, sleepless nights, constant tension in their relationships, stress from daily or weekly reminders of the events via online message boards, the hard work of admitting what went wrong and the even harder work of healing from it, facing consequences or making amends.

The yoga is incidental in most cases, a vehicle of opportunity rather than the cause (at least most of the time).  There are definitely elements within the context of the teacher/student relationship which create opportunities for impropriety… and things occur when opportunity meets tendency.  But this is no different than any other opportunistic vehicle.

Statistics are easier to find for some professions than others but somewhere between 2-10% of sexual misconduct rates seem to be the agreed upon statistic for primary and secondary education teachers, college professors and teaching assistants, clergy, physicians, psychiatrists, massage and physical therapists.  If these low percentages don’t really hit an emotional chord, consider that in the last 10 years, more than a quarter of U.S. school districts have reported cases of sexual abuse by teachers and coaches1.  Let me stress that this is for reported cases and, by most accounts, the majority of incidences of rape and abuse are believed to go unreported.2

No one is immune from abuse, not men, not the elderly, not the rich or the powerful.  But certain populations bear the brunt of the statistics with women in their teens, 20s and 30s showing the highest incidence of rape.  Sexual abuse and misconduct is a trickier realm than rape both in terms of definition and, as a result, legal repercussions; and for both these reasons, as well as the desire by most professions to maintain a good image, statistics on sexual abuse by profession are tough to find.  We expect that no job is safe, though certain professions seem to offer more opportunities for abuse than others.  The general trend seems clear: the likelihood of sexual abuse/misconduct increases proportionally with:

  • the level of intimacy of the relationship,
  • the duration of the sessions,
  • the length of time the relationship is sustained,
  • the amplitude of the power differential,
  • the amount of unsupervised interaction,
  • the emphasis of physical contact, and
  • the level of ease with which a victim can be effectively manipulated.

Psychiatrists and psychologists who maintain longer term, more frequent, more emotionally intimate doctor/patient relationships, and who enjoy longer sessions with their patients, see a much higher rate of sexual misconduct suits than non-psychiatric physicians, who typically see patients less frequently and who rarely devote more than a few minutes per session.  The opportunities to confuse the relationship, to act on sexual impulse, and to manipulate are much higher with psychiatrists/psychologists.  That isn’t to say that they will occur: the inclination has to be there.  But without the opportunity, the inclination will likely not be realized.

Within the yoga community we have a range of interactions and a number of elements that make us a vulnerable:

  • Power differential between teacher and student
  • A context of physical contact
  • Emotionally intimate interactions
  • Frequent (often weekly) sessions
  • Long (hour+) sessions
  • Unsupervised private sessions
  • An emphasis on the body’s ability or potential

Add to this that many classes are sexually charged either via flirtatious banter, skimpy attire, or through what is generally considered healthy discussion on the effects of practice on sex and sexuality, and the boundaries can be blurred easily and the context of the relationship shifted.

But as with other professions, the tendency has to be there.  Opportunity alone is not causal.  Left-handed Tantric practices aside (these are not standard in most yoga classes, though they have played a role in some of the high profile abuse cases of the past 20 years and seemed to feature prominently in at least two of the cases of the last two years), we do not have much that is inherent or unique in modern Westernized yoga that makes us more vulnerable to abuse than any of the professions I listed above.

We also have nothing that makes us immune to it.  Much of the West (and the U.S. in particular) entertains a culture whose values and norms make it difficult to discuss sex dysfunction and sexual abuse openly.  The deep sense of shame associated with both the perpetrator and victim mean that the latter are not likely to come forward and the former finds himself surrounded by an enabling community that is either insensitive to, under-educated about, or willing to second-guess their perception of suspicious behavior.

This culture despises complexity in ethical matters.  It’s much easier when lines drawn crisply between what is right and what is wrong, between who is innocent and who is guilty.  Blur these lines and the sense of discomfort is palpable, the discussion becomes confused and the ability to come to agreement on the motivations, on a resolution, or even on the sequence of events, more difficult.  Oftentimes, when an abuser is accused, there is a camp that comes quickly to his defense, using examples of his good public and private work as proof that he is in fact a good man as if good works and sex abuse were mutually exclusive.  Sex abuse is not something that only bad people do.

Lastly this culture still maintains high levels of inequality especially when it comes to gender, gender roles and sex.  Misogyny is standard in corporations and households.  Gender roles are frequently laid out in advertising and all manner of public media.  Market research and advertising offer some insight into our culture’s high regard youth, vitality and beauty and tends to ignore the experience of those who don’t fall into those two categories.

It is within the context of these values that sex abuse is framed and with it perceptions about who is likely to be a perpetrator (an inclination that often goes against the collected data), who is likely to be a victim, where and when the offenses are likely to occur, and the mechanics of the process.  It is also within this context that we frame the emotional implications and what we decide is the appropriate response to it.  This is not insignificant.  It plays a major role in how we discuss the problem, its players and in how effectively we can come to identify solutions.3

Hindsight on the myriad of sex abuse scandals of the last few years (including the Catholic Church, college sports, and high schools) betrays a Victorian intolerance for discussion of these matters.  More often than not anecdotes reveal how so many bystanders were willing to look the other way either out of shame, fear, confusion or self-interest, and it’s only after the offenses became especially repugnant, numerous, or public that they responded.  Once details become public, the response is generally emotional, and the call for retribution louder than that for understanding.

Problems in the yoga community have been no different.  Each time a yoga sex scandal erupts, it is typically only after the offenses have been going on for months, in most cases years.  There are multiple victims, there were others who knew or suspected what was going on, perhaps some even helped or took part in the offenses.

The community fractures into two or three major camps: those incensed by the wrongdoing and who want some kind of rectification or compensation for the victims, those who question the reliability of the accusations, and those who withdraw.  The latter is the group most often populated with victims, perpetrators and the close friends of each.  This isn’t because of cowardice but because it is to this specific group that the events are most personal and it can be devastating to see personal details of your life, especially of moments that you are ashamed of, deeply affected by, or which you consider especially personal, play out in the public sphere amidst typically scornful, often inaccurate commentary from what feels like anyone who can muster an opinion.  So the high profile rhetoric rarely comes from the people most involved in the issue.  The typical script vilifies the accused perpetrator, victimizes the abused and simplifies the situation down to a structure that makes sense to the average person, that fits into preconceived notions of these incidents and which allows even people with few facts to have an opinion and even a plan of action.

It is uncomfortable in the face of such atrocities to do nothing in these circumstances.  It feels not simply inappropriate but unjust to do nothing.  But most of us who practice Yoga can appreciate that nothing is the space that we aim to linger in during our practice.  And this is with good reason: it is a space created precisely so that whatever intuition, ideas or emotions come, they are not an immediate, habitual response.  Clarity is not achieved by jumping to conclusions and it rarely comes from preconceived notions.  This space can become a double-edged sword for those who have suffered abuse or experienced sexual impropriety in the context of a yoga teacher/student relationship, since practice itself may be directly associated with the perpetrator and the actions.  But this association is specific to the victims and it isn’t out of place to suggest that practice and the thoughtfulness we try to achieve during it is precisely what is necessary when dealing with these kinds of difficult, sometimes ambiguous, often complex situations.

While working at a GLBT Community Center I was faced with this complexity when a very sexually aggressive 13 year old began to frequent the center propositioning our male volunteers for sex.  The level of aggression was flabbergasting.  He would find his opportunity by waiting for the volunteer to be alone and then use sexually charged conversation, emotional connection, seductive physicality and even threats to manipulate the volunteer.

We were faced with an uncomfortable situation.  Clearly this was a child.  Had he succeeded in seducing any of these men and the two been discovered, it would have been clear to everyone that the adult had committed the wrong-doing.  And yet the adult was not the aggressor.  The adult was not following the typical script we expect: finding opportunities to be alone with the child, offering them something desirable, hooking them with charged conversation or the use of threats.  The scripts were reversed.

We learned in discussions with authorities who were familiar with this kid that he’d been found coercing other boys his age to perform sexual acts in school, behind library stacks, and in fairgrounds.  He was clearly a danger to our male volunteers and visitors… and they to him.

Eventually he moved on from our center.4  But the relief of his absence left us with difficult questions: Was this child a victim, a perpetrator, or both?  Most of us assumed he had to have been abused at some time in his youth; but was that our expectations playing out or reasonable deduction?  Was he playing out a script that had been used on him or was it coming from another source inside him?  In a practical manner, did it make a difference on how we should respond?

Victims tend to be painted as afflicted if they acquiesce, overpowered if they fight and fail, brave if they fight and overwhelm their attacker, and impressionable if they never seem to question the wrong-doing is wrong at all.  There is rarely discussion around what actually makes abuse what it is, its characteristics and requirements.  It’s unnerving to ponder the question of whether or not it is abuse if a victim enjoys the act (you can read here that their bodies respond to the physical stimulus or that their minds respond to the situation with arousal), even part of it… especially so if they partially instigated it or maintained the relationship willingly.

In the same way the typical script around perpetrators paints them as either innately perverse if they have no history of abuse or mental illness, or affected by their own abuse or mental illness and driven by an unseen and uncontrollable urge established there and left untreated for years.  It’s rarely considered that their actions may be increasingly frequent missteps in judgment that create a habit, that they may be people fighting an inclination that they know to be wrong but which brings them immense satisfaction even as it creates increased guilt, or that they are people with genuine feelings for what we come to know as their victims and who let these feelings and their own issues of self-worth guide their actions at the expense of others.  Perpetrators are not always calculated and sometimes don’t realize the morality of what they are doing.  Often they may not perceive a power differential at all.  Sometimes the feelings that fuel these ethically and morally suspect actions are genuine.

The familiar script ignores all this and tries to make the victims pure and the perpetrators either evil or victims in their own right, depending on whether or not there’s an explanation for their actions that arouses pity.  It does this to make it easier to understand, to limit the problem, the people, the repercussions and the solution.  And because it’s easier than the reality, the tendency is for anyone with little information to prefer to listen to this script than to the people involved.  The script is so familiar that when it is used in public media it rings immediately and unquestionably true to the audience, which fuels it further until it’s the only story being told.  This happens in the absence of reliable sources and objective reasoning.

A few months back a popular yoga blogger posted a detailed analysis of an accused abuser, a well known and long respected yoga teacher.  It was detailed to the point of describing the abuser’s inclinations and needs and his relationships to others, including his victims and his family.  It aimed to paint a picture of pervasive dysfunction.  The blogger based his assessment on some available accounts of the events (namely clips from old and new letters of complaint about related wrong-doing by this teacher, articles stating the reported charges, and press releases from the two organizations this teacher belonged to).  I posted a comment to his blog entry asking him if he had met or spoken with either the perpetrator or any of his victims.  The next day he replied “no.”

I knew the people he was talking about and I knew that the blogger’s assessment said more about the blogger than about the incident, the perpetrator or the victims.  I still remember my friend crying on the phone, telling me that something was terribly wrong.  “I’m in such a dark place,” he said, without going into details.  I later learned of his offenses.  They were numerous.  They were heinous.  And they had reportedly been going on for many years.  I could hardly understand how these actions fit in the same physical space as this person I respected and loved.  Moreover my friend had been involved with women I knew, with women he’d met at the same events I’d attended, and that much of this had been going on at those same events, right under my nose, and I’d never seen the clues in anyone’s behavior: not his, not his victims’.  I soon learned that others I knew and respected in the community had suspected or known of this behavior for years and had either ignored it or attempted to intervene in ways that optimized privacy (and minimized publicity).  The latter is not meant to suggest nefarious intent as I can’t say exactly why they made those choices at the time.

For weeks I couldn’t go a day without a phone call or email from someone asking what was going on, if the rumors were true, or to relay their own involvement in the matter.  It was painful and confusing and the time between interactions was filled only with dread about what details the next message might bring.  But I forced myself to listen and to continue as awful as it felt, because I refused to continue to be in a space that allowed me to be oblivious to these incidents.  A space that, I felt, I had revisited too many times.

It is never easy or simple to discuss abuse, especially with an abuser or a victim.  It was still awkward to talk about this but given the circumstances, given how obviously critical it was to have these discussions, I finally was bold enough to ask questions that were uncomfortable, personal and which, under any other scenario, would have been deemed inappropriate or not my place to ask.

I learned that some of my female friends had been propositioned for sex and they’d turned him down and, at least according to their accounts, the discussion had ended there and their friendship continued as if nothing had ever been mentioned.  Some had been coerced into a relationship.  And some remembered the details differently with each conversation, the earliest of which portrayed more guilt and less anger.  The later conversations were harder.  It was not lost on me that there were at least two potential processes at work here: (1) the revelation of memory that comes only after analyzing events again and again and (2) the creation of a story that makes sense of how things could have happened.  It was not clear which was dominant at any given point.  And so listening became an exercise in sitting with ambiguity.

So if I, who had been a bystander watching these events and talking to the perpetrator and his victims, still hadn’t come to a conclusion of how things had occurred or what had motivated them, how could this blogger who had never met either, let alone spoken to them?

The entry added absolutely nothing enlightened, gave no insight into how these things can occur let alone how they did occur, and offered no value in how to prevent them in the future.  All it did was create a script that was convenient, which aimed to look analytical, but which was ultimately inaccurate to the situation and to the topic of abuse in general.  What was most interesting and disturbing to me was that someone with no direct resources would think that the story they can create in their mind is worth publishing as authoritative.

The blogger and the majority of comments mostly offered speculation on how these issues could have gone on for so long, who must have known, who was ultimately responsible, and inherent issues with yoga today that lead to these problems.  For the latter, the discourse was mostly limited to three culprits:

  1. The guru-disciple relationship or guru culture,
  2. The lack of accountability within our community, and
  3. The lack of legal follow-through.

Although there are understandable reasons for the conversation focusing on these elements (namely distrust of authority and frustration at the injustice), I believe that it betrayed a lack of knowledge of the incidents in particular and of abuse in general.

1.   The guru-disciple relationship has been a target for many years now and both recent and distant accounts of abuses in this relationship have rightfully contributed to skepticism of its value by those who have never been a part of it and by those who have been directly and indirectly involved in instances of abuse.  Its self-imposed and pronounced power differential sets off alarms for many, especially those who have grown up with an independently-minded spirituality.  The associated cult mentality has also added to suspicions.  The dominant attitude among detractors is that gurus are nothing more than men with inflated egos looking to take advantage of others sexually and financially, that they always do more harm than good, or that the level of good they can do is never worth the risk of harm.  However, there were two major problems with attaching this discussion to this incident:

a.   Few in this conversation seemed to grasp that the teacher they were discussing was not a guru of any sort, that he in fact refused to use that term, and that his students would never call themselves disciples.  None of the victims’ accounts suggested they enjoyed a traditional guru-disciple relationship in character, let alone name.  There were some accounts of a cult-like atmosphere within the closest circle of students/teachers, which some have confused with guru-disciple relationship or guru worship.  Some of the women who had brought forth charges were not students at all, though, but therapy patients.  Others were fellow teachers.  If anything, based on the published accounts, the culture of this teacher’s organization could be accused of having an established hierarchy and intolerance for dissenting opinions or the questioning of authority.  From a Western point of view, it could be called a cult of personality.  The conversation, however, mixed this instance (and by default its cause and cure) with that of the high-profile abusive gurus of the last 30 years but ignored instances of abuse by doctors and therapists, which would have been equally if not more relevant to the situation.

b.   By virtue of the latter, there were explicit and implicit assumptions that eliminating this guru-disciple relationship would eliminate or greatly reduce the incidence of abuse.  It would not.  Abuse permeates professions, religions, and households where there are no gurus and no disciples.  The power differential (and some of the other vehicles I mentioned earlier) creates the opportunity, not what we call it.5  If the goal is to genuinely address the power differential, then discussion would include the culture of celebrity within yoga, the status of “senior teacher,” and  common practice of teachers hiring their own students to work at studios or assist them.  Each of these establishes the teacher as someone to be admired, respected, and obeyed.  Whereas with gurus, the draw for the student would be spiritual development, in the previously listed cases, the draw may be popularity, attention or financial gain, each of which can be (actually has been) exploited by a teacher.  But conversation never ventured to these topics, suggesting (to me) that blaming the guru-disciple relationship may have more to do with distrust of authority (especially in this very foreign form) and less to do with a real understanding of its contribution to opportunities for abuse.

2.   From the discussion on the lack of accountability within the community it was clear that what people were incensed about was the fact that more people weren’t talking about this, that it was either so typical or unimportant to others that it didn’t warrant discussion.  But this is response is not rare.  For those who are friends or family, even coworkers of perpetrators, the response is not simple or immediate, nor is it predictable.  It depends on the personality, on their own history of abuse, of their own involvement in this particular instance of abuse, and most important, on the strength of the bond they shared with the perpetrator.  For many people, when a friend commits a crime or injustice, it isn’t immediately justified to end the friendship.  This has nothing to do with supporting the crime or in believing that it did not occur.  You can love someone who does bad things.  And that love can be stronger than the angry calls from the crowd.

Friendship and love are often talked about as if they are unconditional.  Indeed they are deemed less than perfect, less than true, if they come with conditions attached.  What if the conditions look like this?  It is unrealistic, I think, to expect total and perfect decency in all aspects of life from someone.  But different people have different tolerance levels for the indecency of others and the disappointment it brings.  Where some consider it a failure of character if you let disappointment taint that love, others consider it a failure of character if you hold onto a relationship with someone who is responsible for so much harm.  How do you offer true friendship and still have compassion for those your friend affected?  How do you simultaneously have compassion for perpetrator and victim when you have strong family or friendship bonds with both?  This isn’t an easy conflict to resolve, and people resolve it in different ways and on their own time.

For those who didn’t share that bond with the yoga teacher, it’s also not clear that the immediate response would be outrage.  People go through stages of denial, indifference and numbness, none of which have any expression of anger.  It is precisely how most Western societies respond to rape and sex abuse.  We live in a country where one in every four college age women is a survivor of rape.7  Statistics for women in general vary but they typically suggest 17-25% of women are rape (and attempted rape) survivors.  This is an astounding number.  And yet there is no general outrage and the statistics remain unreasonably high.8  How is it that most people aren’t outraged?  Statistics suggest it’s out of habit.

3.   Lastly, and most telling of our culture, is the anger at the lack of legal follow-through.  The most uncomfortable and problematic part of this is the difficulty in differentiating illegal behavior from immoral behavior.9  The sexual abuse that has taken place over the last few years in the yoga community is not easy to wrap your head around.  The group of people that we have come to see as victims did not all experience the same things to the same degree, and the level of intimate involvement prior to the abuse varied.  Some women were sexually involved with their abuser for months or years and enjoyed attention and gifts.  Some of these women were married.  Many continued their relationship with the abuser even after the first incident they considered objectionable.  Some of the victims were therapy patients who were manipulated into believing that the treatments, which came in the form of sexual practices, would cure them of serious ailments.  Some women were seduced with money, gifts, or power within the community.  Of these, some were threatened with being cut off from their spiritual community when they tried to leave the relationship.  Some women were taught powerful, esoteric practices, which enjoy little expertise in the U.S. but lots of notoriety; they feared losing their access to these if they left.  Some enjoyed what it felt like to do something taboo.  Some felt guilt long before the scandal broke.  Some felt guilt only after.  Some women were propositioned for sex and turned the perpetrator down in what was described as an uncomfortable but amicable scene; and their friendship continued unaffected.  But some women were raped forcibly.  Some seduced.  Some deceived.  Some women escaped the abuse at great cost, including the loss of their jobs and their social circle.  Of these, most tried to forget the situation and never attempted to publicize their experience until the scandal broke.  For many of those, it was the only way to protect themselves emotionally.  Still some attempted to address the problem head on and found little or no support from their employer and colleagues.  Some considered going to the press.  Some did.  Most did not because to publicize the incident would bring to light details that would destroy their families.  Others managed to establish boundaries with the abuser and maintained their job and friends.  Of these some continued to introduce their young, unknowing female friends and students to the abuser despite their own experience; they never offered them advice or warning.  Some were in love with the abuser and felt used after learning his relationship to them was not unique.

There is no protocol in our legal system to deal with these complexities.  The tendency is to take some of the situations above and relegate them to “true victim” and others to “regretful accomplices.”  Some of this comes from misogyny.  Some of it comes from its uncomfortable complexity.  Some comes from simple ignorance.  We are not all the same.  Our samskaras affect us in different ways according to our qualities.  And so the manifestation of these situations will naturally look different.  It is not inappropriate to call each of these women victims, I think, but it is inappropriate to assume that the term “victim” always means the same thing.

I have chosen not to use names in this entry.  Not the victims, not the perpetrators, and not my own.  I put a lot of thought to this and realized that what I needed to say has to do with a process that has been going on for so many years it is beyond names.  Parts of it should be public and parts of it, I think, we would do well to keep private or at least leave in the hands of victims to address and reveal in their own time.  Moreover, some of the people I have referred to in this piece are good friends, people I love and respect and I am certain that those that I do not know directly, whose stories have come to me via friends and fellow teachers, are loved and respected by someone.  This does not mean that I support what has happened. It also does not mean that I hope this goes away.   Having been a victim of abuse before and having my own friends victimized in these events, this is a topic that is more personal than I can put into words.

What I do believe is that before adding to the chatter and the vitriol, it is well worth it to delve deeper into these situations both via the body of knowledge that has been collected over the years of victim testimonials and well-researched documentaries on the topic, and through discussions with people who are involved.  It isn’t wrong that the mind’s response at these events is often to well up with rage at the unfairness and the suffering of others.  But it is critical that these feelings be contained if they are mostly based on a story those same minds have created to deal with the information, rather than on knowledge and analysis of the actual events.  If we don’t, whatever our actions, whatever our words, the response is ultimately more about how we feel than about the well-being of others.  Rage is never advocacy; and ignorance, however understandable, never leads to a solution.

Footnotes

1  According to the American Association of University Women.

2 These statistics would be suspect if they weren’t so consistent.  They tend to be largely based on surveys conducted in representative local populations and the numbers are assumed to be adequate estimates for national populations (which may not be the case).  Based on these surveys, the minimum rates for unreported cases of rape and abuse tend to be around 52% with estimates increasing to 75% in some populations.

3Pedophilia offers us a good analogy.  The majority of pedophiles are men.  This likely comes as little surprise to most.  It is generally understood that pedophiles who molest little girls are straight and pedophiles who molest little boys are gay.  It was this faulty reasoning that led to the Roman Catholic Church equating their pedophile priest issue with a gay priest issue.  The problem is that pedophilia doesn’t function within the same parameters by which we understand sexual orientation.  Pedophiles who are straight identified (meaning they have no expressed or repressed attraction to men) may still prey on young boys.  As a result of this misperception, it’s likely that the Catholic Church’s attempted purge of gay priests won’t affect the existing rates of abuse since there is no higher predisposition there.  They enacted a solution that does not fit the problem but rather their idea of the problem.

4 We changed our volunteer hours twice, swapping male and female volunteers to throw him off and it was clear from the terribly disappointed look on his face as relayed by our lesbian volunteers that he was not happy with this.

5 The extreme case of guru worship can be likened to military culture, where the strict hierarchy forbids subordinates from questioning superiors and where there is a unique and fully segregated culture from the mainstream that makes communication to an external population (and the latter’s subsequent understanding) difficult, if not impossible.  The military, of course, has what we now understand to be a long history of abuse and cover-up of abuse.  The latter is, in my opinion, the piece that makes guru cults susceptible to long term abuse.  It isn’t that the abuse is more likely to happen (read here in terms of number of likely perpetrators) but rather that there is a vehicle for the abuse to be covered up and to continue to occur by the same perpetrator.

6 In my teens, a close friend of my family’s was discovered to be a serial killer who had been murdering prostitutes for the better part of a year.  In that year he’d visited our home and offered the same warmth and humor he had always offered.  When he learned that I had gone to art school he gave my father an expensive drafting table so that I could use it.  He was kind, concerned, and his kindness and concern as it related to us never came with conditions.  My mother was asked once if she was regretful about having had him as a guest in the house, especially near her kids.  Her response relayed perfectly the point of view that people are complex and multi-dimensional, and that relationships, in turn, must be as well.  She said “Not at all.  He was our friend.”

7 From “Assessing Sexual Aggression: Addressing the Gap Between Rape Victimization and Perpetration Prevalance Rates” by Elizabeth Kolivas and Alan Gross

8 Most surveys show a drop in the incidence of rape in the last 10 years within the U.S.  Statistics on the magnitude of this drop vary.

9 I specifically avoid the use of the term “unethical” here because it can suggest different things depending on the profession.  I use “immoral” to try to relay the idea that the infraction would be considered by most people, regardless of profession, to be irresponsible, inconsiderate, or generally lacking in morality.

the bottom line

I returned from India last week dazed and depressed and feeling like I had been deposited onto a different planet.  The fact that the temperature in Chicago was literally 60 degrees colder than what I had experienced for almost three months in South India did not help either.  But here I am for better or for worse.

My trip was a mixed bag of love and hate, positive and negative, joy and sadness, and bittersweetness.   Like life.   The group trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and yoga retreat in Varkala was a life training, that’s for sure.  Let’s just say: I learned a lot about egos with a capital E and how to deal with them.

The majority of the time it was wonderful (how could it not be when I am in my soul’s home?) and most of the first timers to India were very happy, falling in love with Ma India as I did 8 years ago.  However, for my next retreat — YES, I AM CRAZY ENOUGH TO PLAN TWO YOGA RETREATS FOR 2014! — there will be ground rules in place like, “accept what is offered to you” and “this isn’t about you, it’s about the GROUP.”  Behavior that I deem inappropriate and not conducive to harmonious group dynamics will not be tolerated and people will be asked to leave, no refunds.   Just sayin’.

Amanda the Yogachicky has been writing fabulous posts about the group trip and her first time in India.  We’ve been online friends for a long time and we finally met in Chennai which she chronicled here. You can read about our week at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram here.

Leaving India gets harder and harder for me each time.  My friends there don’t want me to leave and tell me they love me.   One friend hooked me up with a lawyer whom I spoke to about starting a business in India.  No matter where I am whether it’s a big city like Chennai or a bigger city like Mumbai (that I experienced for the first time and had a wonderful time thanks to another online friend — read Sharell’s story on the amazing slum tour we took) or walking the beach in Varkala, a feeling that suddenly makes me weep passes through me like an electric wave.  It is tangible and visceral, that  feeling of being totally in the flow, how what I am doing in that moment feels so natural and perfect and right, much more so than when I am back living where I live.  The feeling of being dropped onto a different planet never hits me when I land in India only upon my return.

One of the participants sent me this quote from Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence  (you can change the pronoun and gender):

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place.  Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have know from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage.  They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known.

Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves.  Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history.  Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels he belongs.  Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.  Here at last he finds rest.”

I started teaching in Varkala.  My style of yoga is eclectic and I taught so that people gradually got into Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Style yoga as I interpret it.  I know I took two people out of their comfort zone with it and with yin yoga.  The bottom line:  I don’t know what the hell type of yoga I teach.  I put no name to it other than “mindful.” I don’t know how to market my style to draw people and we all know that yoga nowadays is all about the marketing.  I guess my students here who’ve been with me since almost Day 1 of my teaching can answer my question because I sure as hell can’t.  I don’t want to be put inside a yoga box because as a friend told me this morning, I was put on earth to shake things up.  So if you dig what I teach, cool; if not, oh well.

In spite of having some less than stellar moments during the group trip, I love showing people my India (not your India, not his India, not her India, but my India.)  A friend tells me that he thinks I am meant to be a Westerner’s guide to India (this friend has agreed to co-teach the next two week retreat in Varkala so stay tuned for those details!)  The prospect of starting a business in India makes ideas swirl in my brain, one of which is running a guesthouse where I can offer yoga classes and energy healing.  We shall see.  Goddess willing.

This is what one person in the group had to say:

“If Lady Luck or good fortune or the grace of god showers you with her serene and beguiling smile a time or two, you may pause in appreciation and recognition that being alive can be, well, pretty darn good. And when that invisible hand so softly and gently guides you to a place beyond which you have only allowed yourself to imagine, you may pinch yourself again and again to be sure you’re not dreaming.

It wasn’t a dream. It was, in fact, two plus weeks of the most in-your-face, raw, sensual, noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, life affirming, life changing, drama-producing, tranquility-inducing living that you might ever ask for. Oh, and loving and lovely, too. It was my first visit to India. All put together by Linda Karl, our guide, interpreter, arranger, teacher and very passionate Indiaphile.

What started with very pedestrian concerns about jet lag and more heartfelt concerns about being half a world away from my family, was immediately seized by Mother India and transformed into an experience that was so far beyond my expectations that I’ll spend the rest of my life sorting it out.

Yes, this was a yoga study trip that included a week with some of the most accomplished teachers you could hope for at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandarim in Chennai. We practiced asana and pranayama, learned about Patanjali’s Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, meditated and, for some of us, used our pitch-challenged voices to bring sound to Vedic chanting. Every day was full and complete and that doesn’t include the walk to KYM on streets filled with noises, smells, sights and sounds that invaded every sensory pore, every moment, unfiltered. It was double Red Bull India.

The second week at Varkala Beach was India light – every bit as real but allowing you to catch your breath. A tropical forest of coconut palms, banana and jack fruit trees and other forms of greenery not found in more familiar climes were set high on a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea with small shops selling everything Indian and restaurants with the freshest catches of the day and cold Kingfishers to wash it all down. Here each day started with two hours of Linda’s interpretation of Freedom style yoga. The remainder of most days was unplanned and thus afforded time to ease into conversations with the other seven members of our group. For me, this is when the rose came into full bloom. The combination of intense yoga study and practice in a country that gave no quarter to a first time Westerner left me exposed. And into this opening walked seven people who shared some of their most intimate joys and hurts. That’s when I knew this was and will forever be an experience of a lifetime.

Since returning home I have savored innumerable moments and tossed and turned many thoughts. For anyone so inclined, ever how slightly, to consider making his or her own visit to India, allow Linda be your guide. Timshel.”

It’s the most beautiful thing a student can say about the experience a teacher offers them.

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Mumbai sunset

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a car like me: outside the box

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the money shot: in Mumbai market

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in the Freedom Style flow with Alicia Keys music

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where my heart is: Varkala

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Mumbai plate seller

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up close and personal with Ganesha

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in the ladies’ car, Mumbai

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Ganesh Mohan with his father, A.G. Mohan: yoga therapy training, Chennai

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rockin’ out to Freedom Style

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there’s something happening here

Getting ready for a trip to India always gets my energetic body all jacked up.   I’m buzzing and it feels like when I used to take speed back in the day (hey, I was a hippie, OK?)  Now it’s a natural high.

I leave on Sunday for my 7th trip, beginning with continuing my yoga therapy training with Ganesh Mohan, traveling for the first time to Varanasi and Sarnath, then leading my group of 7 intrepid first-time India travelers and global yogis for private classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, then my yoga retreat in Varkala, Kerala.  When they go home I’m off to Goa and Mumbai, each for the first time.

To say that this trip is different is an understatement.  I was more involved with learning different energy healing modalities last year (which by their very nature cranks up your energy body) and this week I received some energy work, so to say that I’ve shifted is also an understatement.  My gut is screaming at me that something is happening.  Can’t put my finger on it but in the words of Sly Stone, there’s a riot goin’ on.

The latest is that Kausthub Desikachar has broken his silence.  Coincidentally I received an email today from “Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga.”  It came to my old email address that KYM has.  The website is sky-yoga.net but when I searched for that site, nothing came up.  There is no name attached to the email, it came from “courses@sky-yoga.net.”

After explaining the Krishnamacharya tradition, it goes on:

The Sannidhi of Krishnamacharya Yoga (SKY) is founded by TKV Desikachar and Menaka Desikachar.  It will be the medium through which the whole range of the teachings of T Krishnamacharya will be extended into the current century in a traditional manner, yet relevant to the modern era.

The objectives of Sannidhi of Krishnamcharya Yoga (SKY) include

  • Increasing awareness of Yoga and its many applications especially in the domains of Health, Healing and Spiritual Transformation.
  • Promoting and sharing Yoga as a complimentary therapeutic approach both in one to one settings, as well as in specialized focused groups.
  • Offering Training programs of the highest standards in Yoga and Yoga therapy.
  • Collaborating with other modalities of healing to facilitate integrative paradigms in healing.
  • Creating and sharing educational resources that support the understanding and study of Yoga.
  • Supporting the network of Yoga teachers and therapist through continuing education. Initiating Research studies to evaluate the role of Yoga in contemporary health care.

…A choice of exciting programs are being conceptualised SKY for the year 2013. These will be conducted by experienced and senior faculty trained in the tradition of Krishnamacharya. Details of these will be made available soon.

Interesting.  Someone subscribed me to this E newsletter since they have my old email address.  The email listed their courses for 2013.   Their address is 6 (Old# 5) Stone Link Avenue in R A Puram, near the neighborhood that KYM is in.   The Krishnamacharya Healing & Yoga Foundation (KHYF) that Kausthub headed and was subsequently dismissed from (rumors are that he still pulls the strings behind the scenes) is in the near area.

Call me suspicious but I doubt very much that Sri Desikachar and his wife would start a new yoga school, not given their ages and Sri Desikachar’s condition.   But did Kausthub start a new school a la John Friend?  Did he name his parents as founders of this new school as they were named the heads of KHYF when Kausthub was forced to step down?

My intuition says yes.

Curiouser and curiouser.

As is my local yoga scene.  In the last few weeks I’ve heard stories that make me shake my head and put my hands to my ears saying “lalalalalalala……”  Then I was handed some foolish online nonsense by a local teacher that it all makes me wonder what the frack is in the air.  The energy workers I know all speak about a shift that is accelerating and you’d better lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.

I’m out of here.

Enjoy my silence.

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finding my tribe

godsNgoddesses

Recently my Kali Sister, Svasti, wrote about finding her tribe.  I can certainly relate to that.  That has pretty much been the story of my life. usually an outsider, always the loner.  I’m that person whom when you first meet me you think I’m a bitch or creepy because I don’t do small talk, never have.  I’m a hard nut to crack.  A former boss told me a very long time ago that those who give up or who don’t want to make the effort aren’t worthy to be in my life anyway.  My nickname used to be Loba (Spanish feminine for wolf) because as I was told, wolves and wild women are always misunderstood.

This relates to the tarot card reading I had last week.   Besides what I wrote about the reader was emphatic when she told me that I should “be ready” when I get back from India because I will “need” to find a bigger space for teaching, she was certain of it.   Whether it is enlarging my home shala, renting space, collaborating with someone,  whatever it is, she said it will happen.  And yesterday it fell into my lap.

Yesterday I met a former student now yoga teacher for coffee.  We had a lovely discussion and she said she had a theory about me (I love hearing people’s theories about me), that I am not a “pushing” teacher but a “pulling” teacher.  By “pushing” she meant the type of teacher who is always telling you to take their classes, filling your in box with emails about workshops, etc.

In her opinion a “pulling” teacher draws you in by virtue of, well, by not doing the things a pushing teacher does.  Students find a pulling teacher on their own, kind of like a resonance, radar, synchronicity, whatever you want to call it.  I thought about what she said and realized that my home shala students are just like that because they’ve been with me almost since Day One of my teaching over 10 years ago.

This woman only took 16 weeks of yoga with me more than a few years ago at a place where I no longer teach but she said she never lost sight of me, she always followed my doings.  We reconnected because she invited me to take her class, a class specifically for belly dancers as she is one herself.  Her teaching was lovely, the real deal, it wasn’t scripted, it was honest and smart.  She is a new teacher but not a “new” teacher if you know what I mean.  She is already seasoned and has marinated for a while and long time readers of this blog know what I mean by how yoga marinates us.

The space where she teaches is inside a belly dance studio that is inside a holistic center in an old, rehabbed building (read: “with character and good energy”) in an area where I used to teach.  The holistic center offers energy work, acupuncture, holistic chiropractic care, among other things.  When I walked in I was greeted immediately by the person at the door with warmth and laughter and the building had nice, uplifting energy.  The yoga teacher who had the space for a number of years left (from what I hear she couldn’t make a go of it for whatever reason) and my friend suggested me to the belly dance studio operator.  She then connected us on Facebook and before I had a chance to respond, the proprietress contacted me.  We will start discussions and if it’s meant to be when I return in April, it’s meant to be, I’m open.

What does this have to do with finding my tribe?  That I should find my own tribe is something my astrologer first told me years ago, even before I went to India the first time.  It’s in my natal chart plain as day.  The longer I teach, the more I realize the so-called yoga community is not my tribe, but there is nothing negative in that idea.  It just is.  Unfortunately some in my local yoga scene think that if you’re not with us, you’re against us.   No, not so because I’ve never been part of mainstream anything.  I’ve always walked to a different drummer, you say go right and I go left.  It’s probably why I’ve never had any desire to attend any type of yoga fest.

Without getting into any specifics I’ve heard a plethora of stories lately about people in my local yoga scene, stories about teachers and owners, the usual yoga studio drama yama, all of which makes me uber-glad once again that I teach out of my house.  It also makes me glad that I am leaving for India a week from this Sunday.  As a friend told me, “I bet you can’t wait to leave.”

So given the stories I’ve heard lately and one thing that happened to me just this week (again, no specifics), Kali Ma gave me a slap upside the head as She is prone to do.  Boom Shiva!  I thought, it ain’t the yoga peeps, baby, it never was, my tribe is other energy workers (why the serious call last year to learn more energy healing?) and dancers (since I connect with dance as much as I do with yoga.)

Coincidence about the possible space?  I think not.

Boom laka laka laka, I’m gonna take it higher.

ch…ch…ch…changes

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“Lotus Feet of the Lord” and a rose given to me by Swami Avdheshanand Giri, head of the Juna Akhara naga babas, at 2010 Kumbh Mela, Haridwar

Happy belated New Year!  May you all be well and happy and peaceful in 2013!

This is my first post of 2013 which is amazing to me since I started writing this blog in 2005 before my first trip to India.  But it is also my last post for a while because I will step onto Indian soil for the 7th time on January 29.  I’m blessed and oh so grateful to be able to have traveled to Ma India all these years.  That realization is never lost on me because India is truly my soul’s home.  As someone told me, my trips are not just to study yoga, they are pilgrimages.  Jai Ma.

This trip will be very different as a group of 7 intrepid travelers and yoga practitioners will be meeting me in Chennai for my first attempt at a group trip.  Kali help me.  I could never be a full-time travel agent because the details of organizing this trip have given me more than a few migraines.  And I am quite accustomed to being alone in India which is how I like to be.  Now I will be with 7 other people for a full 16 days.   It surely will be a test but I expect nothing less from Ma.

I start the trip with taking Module 4 of Ganesh Mohan’s yoga therapy training and then I am off to Calcutta and Varanasi and Sarnath, where Buddha did his first dharma teaching after his Enlightenment.   In Sarnath I will attend a dharma gathering led by Christopher Titmuss. After that, off to Varkala, Kerala for a week to see the preparations for my first ever retreat then back to Chennai to wait for the arrivals of 7 first-time travelers to India.

One thing that is VERY COOL is that I finally get to meet my long-time blog reader and cyber-friend Svasti!  How exciting is that?  Since we are both sisters of Kali we thought meeting up in Kali’s city of Calcutta would be auspicious.

Back to Chennai for a few days after the retreat then off to Goa and Mumbai, both for the first time.  I was invited to Mumbai by Sharell who writes Diary of a White Indian Housewife and I said “why not?” because life is too short and I have a lot more years behind me than I have ahead of me.  I found out about this yoga place  in Mumbai and contacted them about whether they would be interested in hosting me for a workshop before I leave India.  They said yes, so maybe I will bring Yin Yoga to Mumbai….we shall see!

After all that, I will start plans to an October 2014 yoga retreat to this place in the Himalayas….interested?  Two of my students already are thinking about going.

As for me and my yoga, 2012 was a year of santosha once I returned home from India.  It’s hard to explain but I’ll try.

Although I cut two weeks off my trip last year, I surely did not want to come home because I was content where I was and how I was.  I realized in India what a freak I am in my local yoga scene of hot yoga and acro-yoga and yoga with weights and yoga with such names that I can’t even figure out what it is.  People feel bad when I call myself a yoga freak but I don’t hold any bad connotations on that word just like my hippie friends and I were proud to call ourselves freaks back in the day.  So yeah, I consider myself a yoga freak and I let my freak flag fly.  You either dig it or not.

My yoga practice is more meditation than asana now and an epiphany came up and bit me in the ass as it usually does: santosha.   I used to get bent out of shape about not having a load of students.  Frantic as a matter of fact and I almost quit teaching.  Since I no longer teach in studios (other than workshops), the only regular students  I have come to my house.  A friend told me that we are true sangha because it is yoga the old school way.   My students are 150% supportive of me even though I will be gone 10 weeks — they know I need to get back to India to re-nourish myself and they know I bring back more yoga for them.  My students are empowered enough to do their own practice at home when I’m gone.

I almost canceled my group trip because of the Kausthub mess, but only one person backed out; the rest trusted my judgment about continuing the trip and studying at KYM and the majority of those coming have never met me.   That speaks volumes.

I get a ton of hits on my website but my phone does not ring off the hook — in fact,  it does not ring at all — for yoga inquiries.  I get no calls for private yoga, trauma sensitive or otherwise.  I’ve been told that with my training and experience I could make $100,000 a year in New York City teaching private classes.  I worked with one woman all last summer who was a survivor of sexual assault and she got to the point where she reunited with her husband and was able to move out of town, a story of transformation.  But other than that, nada.

Do I care?  I can honestly say no.  I’m detached from the fruit of my actions.  Sometimes it’s scary how detached I am.   My gut is telling me that the detachment will open me up for something much greater than I can imagine.  Those who want my style of yoga will find me, those that don’t, won’t.  And I am finally content with that.  And that’s liberating.  My own practice has gone so inward that I’ve turned myself inside out.  Last year I had planned to go to Varanasi but while meditating I heard a voice tell me “everything you are seeking you already are.”  That’s why it’s called insight meditation.

Yes, I still do workshops and I’m creating a Yoga for Inner Healing training that will utilize yin yoga and trauma sensitive yoga.  I’ve been asked to teach twice monthly next year and a place where I taught once a month.  I will work on “Freedom Style” Yoga workshops in the style of Erich Schiffmann.  I should say, in MY Freedom Style as Erich suggested.   Because that’s what yoga is to me:  freedom.  Once you silent mind, once you shut up, that’s when the knowledge flows in.  That’s freedom.

I realized not too long ago that I’ve developed siddhis.   Of course I am not talking about levitating or turning water into wine or developing the ability to drink poison unscathed.  I am talking about the ability to watch a negativity come up and then burst like a balloon or disappear like a rising bubble in champagne.  POP.  GONE.  Over and over again.  That’s real magic.  My reactions to things in the not too distant past that would have been loud and immediate just aren’t there anymore.  POP.  GONE.   Those are the siddhis of transformation and I don’t quite have the words for it.  But that’s OK because I don’t think about it, it just is.  It’s this low-grade almost imperceptible constant buzz of santosha.  Silent mind it and shut up and do your practice.  Thinking less, feeling more.

I’ve done few yoga trainings this year but felt called to learn more energy work which I did in the form of Emotional Freedom Technique and Quantum Touch Healing. This is work I rarely talk about because when I talk about it someone invariably wants to label it and put it in a box, and that’s not what my energy work is about.  People here are dazzled by “master” this or that and how many letters you have after your name on your business card.  My friend in India just tells me “bring your healing.”  No one asks me what it is, what it does, etc. etc. etc. because it’s understood as being a part of life.  Something tells me to combine it with yoga but not here, there.  I just can’t bring myself to name it Blah Blah Blah Quantum Reconnective Reiki Blah Blah Blah Yoga Blah Blah — as I saw a class similarily named today.  It’s just yoga.  It’s just healing.  Life is yoga and life is transformation.  That’s it.

There is always a morphing, a changing, a moving on inside me.   I’ve always known my real home is the world and not where I live.  I knew that when I was living by myself eating government cheese and using food stamps when I was in college.   Maybe my niche is yoga travel to India and beyond.  Maybe my teaching niche is to small, select groups who can see beyond mainstream.

Adios, kids.

love is

erich be love

“LOVE IS THE WILLINGNESS TO RECOGNIZE WHAT IS REAL”

I had the good fortune last week to attend Erich Schiffmann’s training, “Going Deeper” at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center.  It just so happened that two workshops I was scheduled to teach at a new studio in my town were canceled.  So being able to fly for free to Los Angeles, getting a rental car on credit card points, and using a $150 gift card toward a hotel stay, I said “I’m outta here” for some Erichji Yoga.

“Going Deeper” was described as….

Freedom Style Yoga as taught by Erich Schiffmann is about growing into your own personal, authentic expression of yoga. It is an intuitive approach to LIFE with three strands: 1) Meditation, 2) Asana Practice, and 3) the rest of the time.

It’s about learning to be “Online” all the time. The teachings and practices culminate in the ability to channel Online Knowing. This looks like you and me living our lives with creativity and wisdom. The idea is to listen inwardly to your heart and conscience, so that the intelligence of the Universe becomes your common sense. This can be summarized as, “Do not decide in advance about what to do or not do. Instead, listen inwardly for Guidance and trust into what you find yourself Knowing.”

This is not an inherently strenuous practice, but it is advanced. It requires that you be brave enough to follow YOUR deepest impulses about what feels right and what doesn’t. This is not always easy. It involves the development of self-trust based on the growing conviction that YOU are the specific and unique self-expression of that which is ultimately trustworthy: Life, Love, Truth, Presence, GOD.

Of course I loved it.  Erich’s teaching speaks to my heart.  I realized last year when I attended his weekend in Yellow Springs, Ohio for the first time that I’ve been teaching “freedom style” for years.  Because like Erich, my yoga ain’t all about the asana, it’s about going deeper.  “Advanced” yoga isn’t about putting your leg behind your neck.  It’s not even about doing a headstand in the middle of the room.  Or doing a headstand at all.   The biggest learning from yoga is that it’s a lifestyle.  The more “advanced” you are, the more it should come back to the simplicity of things.  Mentally being “online” all the time and according to Erich, the way to do that is what he calls “silent mind it.”  Or as I have written here numerous times, “shut up and do your practice.”  Just.  shut.  up.  Be mentally online from wherever you find yourself being.  “Think less, feel more”, Erich said.  “Silent mind it” does not mean you become unconscious — you become super-conscious and then the wisdom of the Universe can flow in and become your common sense.  Isn’t that what the root word of yoga — yuj — is all about?  Yoking?  Yoking with the Infinite?

When you silent mind it and stop the mind chatter, clear seeing occurs.  When Erich mentioned that I thought about how often during the day I notice my own empty mind.  Not dull mind, not spaced out mind, but just…clear.   Clear is an excellent word.  Clear like a glass of water with the dirt settled at the bottom.  When I notice the clarity my mind immediately says “wow.  no thoughts.”  Then I usually start thinking about something but eventually empty mind returns.  It’s nice.  It’s liberation.

As Erich says I don’t feel unconscious but it’s a heightened awareness that allows me to notice things in a different way, to see things differently, clearer.  Indeed, Erich says we should practice saying “I see you” whenever we see anything.  Not just see but really see.  Think about that.  Saying this again and again interrupts the habitual mental commentary.  Look at a rock: “I see you.”  Look at your cat: “I see you.”  Look at a homeless person: “I see you.”  You can go around all day saying “I see you” to everyone and every thing.  We always look but do we really see?  Then it becomes not just “I see you” but “Ah….I SEE you….”  A WOW moment.

I can tell you from my own experience that silent minding it has led to more than a few WOW moments of the realization of interbeing. Not merely paying lip service to the concept, but in my bones KNOWING that I know this to be true.

Then take it up a notch.  After practicing saying “I see you”, then say “I love you.”  Ouch.  Wince.  Loving your boss?  Loving someone who abused you?  Loving your partner who cheated?  Really?

What’s your definition of love?  Erich said his working definition is the quote at the beginning of this post.  What is real and true?  It’s about seeing reality as it is.

Erich speaks a lot about relaxing, not clenching, because when we clench physically, mentally, we are always bound up.  If we’re bound up, tense, how can the download of Infinite Wisdom occur?  It’s like trying to put something into a plugged up bottle, you can’t do it because there is no room.

When he talked about love being the willingness to recognize what is real, I thought about what the Buddha had to say about it:  our suffering is caused by our wish for reality to be different from what it is.  Dukkha is commonly translated as “suffering” but my Buddhist teacher (a Theravaden monk) said that the truer meaning is “discomfort” or “dissatisfaction” about the way things really are.  In that regard, think about how many times during the day we are dissatisfied or discomforted.  Our inability to see what is real IS the clenching that creates our dukkha.  More clenching, more dukkha, more dukkha, more clenching.  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Endless cycles, more samskaras.   Now think about Erich’s definition of love:  being willing to recognize what is real in ourselves and others.

It feels good when someone sees us and loves us for our own reality.  Erich’s advice is to say “I see you and I love you” to break the habit of not seeing and not loving.

Practice the yoga lifestyle:

1.  Silent mind it.  Be aware of what you’re doing in each new now.  Every moment.

2.  Relax.  Unclench.  Mentally and physically.

3.  Practice love, i.e., seeing things as they are with a clear mind.

A friend told me today about someone she knew who returned from a group tour of India.  She said she hated India because it is so filthy.  Yes, that’s certainly true — India is filthy in many places.  It is also beautiful and these qualities exist side by side at the same time.  That’s the reality of India:  the Taj Mahal and legless beggars, side by side.  But the woman only saw filth.  I thought, how would that woman’s experience be different if she followed Erich’s advice, “I see you and I love you”?

Be love.  Be real.  Because there is no other way to be.

“Ultimately you must choose between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.” — Mingyur Rinpoche

just yoga, part 2

Part 1 is here….

Sigh.  Maybe it’s because this time of year is colder and darker;  maybe it’s because it’s that time of year when my  head is in India but my body is still here; maybe it’s because of the modern yoga scene in general.   But it’s the time of year where I turn even more inward and become philosophical.  Or ranty.  Take your pick.

Am I the only one who is not impressed by photos of people doing what’s called “acro yoga”?  You know….the photos of someone being hoisted skyward by someone with their legs in the air?  Sure it looks cool and fun and it catches my attention for about 3 seconds.  And yeah, I’d like to try it just like I would like to try flying through the air with the greatest of ease on a trapeze.  Once.  But for a studio to put it on their regular schedule?  Really?  Do studios actually make more dough with acro yoga on their schedule?  Or is it just another yoga fitness version of the Slide?  Something to catch our attention for 15 minutes because we’re never satisfied with doing JUST YOGA?

I taught a yin yoga class over the weekend at a place where I only teach once a month so I don’t build any type of student-teacher relationship with drop-in students.   A new woman came in and like I always do I introduced myself, asked if she had ever done yin yoga before (never), and asked about her injuries.  She told me she practices vinyasa and proceeded to give me a litany of her issues and then stopped and said, “I’m sure you don’t want to hear everything.”  I said, “yes I do.  that’s my job.”  So she gave me a few more and knowing she would fine with what we were going to do, I told her to take it easy, that the class is more about letting go than muscling in, and that I would keep an eye on her.

After the class I asked how she was and she said fine, that she liked it, but she had trouble with stillness because she moved all the time in vinyasa.  I shrugged and said, yes, people have a hard time with being still.  That’s just par for the course in yin classes with vinyasa practitioners who don’t know any other way to be their yoga.  Notice I did not say “do their yoga.”  Someone then complimented her on her vinyasa practice in spite of all her injuries and she began telling me again about all her injuries.  I just nodded and said, “well…sounds like you need some yin yoga to complete your practice.”  However, I really wanted to ask her, “why isn’t your yoga healing your body? ”   But more importantly I wanted to ask her, “why aren’t you even questioning whether the yoga you’re doing is right for you?”

I hoped she would return.  I intuited that she could really use a yin practice and not just on the physical level.  But rarely do students I meet in public classes seek out classes in my home shala to get the personal attention they deserve.

I read this blog today and thought it was entirely applicable to the student who was in my class:

Yoga is a healing modality that creates balance and transformation. Sometimes people may become obsessive about how to heal from a certain ailment or malady. They focus so hard upon what ails them and their energy becomes consumed in a downward spiral. By Yoga practice you expand your awareness to explore your boundaries. What is the mobility of my body? What is the capacity of my breath this breath in this position? In? Out? How long before the tendencies of my mind interrupt my silence? This expansion of awareness is akin to taking stock on all your resources or being the manager of all your systems and behaviors. Healing which really lasts comes from the intelligence provided by observing yourself and choosing those things which you intuitively feel bring you towards well-being.

An excellent, thoughtful article and one that makes me despair about the modern state of yoga with its myriad of styles.  So many people have asked me lately what “style” of yoga I teach that I want to run away screaming.  It seems like all that people know about modern “yoga” are labels and not the essence, a healing modality as the blogger above writes about.  More times than not, people (and I am talking about people who have gone to yoga classes) have no idea that yoga is a healing modality when I tell them I also do private yoga therapy sessions.

When people ask me if yin yoga is a style, I honestly say no, it’s not, at least not the way I teach it.  I tell people in workshops that it’s just another way to be your yoga, the asanas are the same, that there is merely a different emphasis on stillness.  Even when I teach vinyasa (and I am loathe to call it flow), my emphasis is stillness.

My website says that:

...“Metta” is a Pali word (maitri in Sanskrit) meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, benevolence. Yoga practiced in this manner is about befriending your body and becoming your own best friend.

Metta Yoga is the yoga of Awareness, a powerful combination of yoga, meditation, breath awareness, and intuitive healing.

It is yin (stillness) and yang (movement) yoga, blending softness and strength. You will be encouraged to compassionately explore your edge as you grow your practice, strengthen your body, expand your heart, and free your mind. You will be challenged and supported, but most importantly, reminded to bring your full attention to your body and to your breath, ending class with pranayama and mindfulness meditation.

I posted that on my Facebook business page today and a woman responded “this sounds like just what I need…are there classes near me?”

For some reason, her question made me very sad.

That’s all I teach.  Just yoga.

Come take a class with me and you’ll see.  Quickly.  Before I run away screaming and, as a friend has said, I take up residence in India.